The Hays Area Planning Commission unanimously agreed Monday evening that commercial-scale wind turbines should not be allowed within 3 miles of Hays city limits. That recommendation will pass to the Hays City Commission for final action.
The 5-0 vote follows months of discussion and a request submitted by Fort Hays State University to allow towers up to 500 feet tall in the 3-mile zoning radius surrounding town. As upheld Monday, the current regulations allow towers up to only 125 feet tall.
“If we could just say Fort Hays could have them and nobody else can, then it would be fine. But we can’t do that,” Acting Chairman Jim Fouts said. “And I’m not willing to open it up to anybody in that 3-mile zone, because I think that would be against our prime directive of trying to facilitate organized growth in the city of Hays.”
Chairman Larry Gould and commissioners Lou Caplan and Paul Phillips recused themselves to prevent a possible conflict of interest. All three are employed by FHSU.
FHSU has announced its intent to construct a small wind generation project consisting of two turbines. The towers likely would not be 500 feet tall, but would need to be taller than the 125-foot towers currently allowed, FHSU President Edward H. Hammond said.
It has been estimated that replacing 1.7 gigawatts of purchased electricity would save the university $800,000 annually.
Hammond expressed disappointment with the planning commission’s recommendation, but also noted the final decision will come from city commissioners.
“We were wanting to get it on to the city. It’s been seven months of kind of talking about do they want to do something or not,” Hammond said this morning. “And last night, they chose.”
Changing the regulations for one entity would be considered spot-zoning, which is not legally defensible, City Attorney John Bird has said at previous meetings.
Planning commissioners also briefly discussed the possibility of changing the city’s regulations affecting the 3-mile zoning radius to comply with a new, more stringent set of regulations approved in August by the Ellis County Commission. Previously, commissioners had expressed concern about the possible implications of less stringent requirements in the 3-mile zone than those enforced in the county.
Some of those requirements, such as a setback distance of 10 times the tower height from existing dwellings, are significantly different from the regulations currently enforced in the city.
“That’s a pretty substantial difference. Our current regulations have no setback from an existing dwelling,” said Jesse Rohr, superintendent of planning, inspection and enforcement for Hays Public Works.
The county regulations also prohibit wind turbines within 3 miles of any incorporated city.
Commissioners spoke in opposition of conforming to those regulations, and instead opted to keep the current document intact.
“My biggest problem with adopting any of the county regulations is, we’re just going to make it harder instead of easier,” Fouts said. “We’re going to discourage wind opportunities instead of encouraging them in the 125-foot range, and I think that’s counterproductive to what we’re really trying to do.”
In other business:
* A final plat of the American Legion Addition was approved 8-0. The plat includes four lots the organization is hoping to sell, as well as a park which the American Legion has offered to the city.
* Commissioner Terry Claycamp was absent.
* Three planning commissioners were selected for a committee the city will form to review proposals submitted for development of a new comprehensive plan. The county will form a similar committee, and it is hoped both entities could use the same firm to recognize possible cost savings, Rohr said.
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