EL RENO – Canadian County held a public hearing on the question of whether to establish a county planning commission for the purpose of bringing in orderly, coordinated physical development throughout the unincorporated portions of the county in accordance with present and future needs.
County officials are considering forming a planning commission after residents in the Piedmont area voiced their concerns regarding the Kingfisher Wind Farm, which is making its way east towards the city limits.
The hearing was held at the Canadian Valley Technology Center in El Reno on Saturday morning. Two groups of people were split up in two lines to speak to commissioners, with one group voicing their support for the county planning and zoning committee and the other against it.
District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson voiced his support for a planning commission at the hearing.
“I believe in wind power,” Carson said. “I think it is the greatest thing there is. But, I am an opponent to it being in our growth and expansion areas, around housing additions and schools. My main thought on a planning commission, if its formed properly, is to protect ourselves.”
Pam Suttles, who heads the Oklahomans for Responsible Wind, was given 10 minutes to talk about why there needs to be some sort of planning and zoning in the unincorporated parts of the county.
“For those of us that live in Piedmont, we have a planning commission and we say ‘No’ to wind turbines in our city,” said Suttles, who lives in the Piedmont city limits. “The first reason we need a county planning commission is because of these turbines, they are huge, 400 feet tall. Because we don’t have a county planning commission, we won’t be able to regulate the sound of these giant machines.”
Suttles discussed issues with wind turbines that she said could affect homeowners in the area. She argued that the value of property and land near the turbines would drop significantly.
“We pay taxes and we should have a right to vote and decide,” she said. “There are 200 people that are going to benefit from these wind turbines and then there will be 120,000 that will be greatly affected.”
Kent Dougherty, Development Manager for APEX Wind Energy, addressed some of the comments made by Suttles.
“The impacts of wind farms on property values have been researched extensively using a variety of techniques and these studies produce no conclusive evidence that wind farms harm property values over time,” Dougherty said. “Wind farms provide significant funding to schools, county governments, and other local services, which improve property values by making communities more attractive for growth and economic development.”
Dougherty also argued that wind farms would not prevent future development.
“A third-party survey showed that 93 percent of the Kingfisher wind farm’s land area supports crops of grasslands, with only 3.8 percent development, which was primarily roads,” he said. “Wind farms also complement oil and gas development, generating additional value on lands already in use for energy development.”
Dougherty said the wind farms would bring county revenue and school funding to Canadian County along with 270 jobs during construction and 90 long-term jobs during operation.
Maurice Woods, who began a support group called Protection of Private Property Rights, told commissioners why he opposed the idea of a planning commission.
“The formation of a planning and zoning commission will be a waste of taxpayer dollars and will create a new layer of bureaucracy for everyone who lives in the unincorporated parts of the county,” said Woods, who moved to Canadian County from Oklahoma City. “Most people don’t want their rural land zoned or planned. I moved here because I wanted to get away from homeowner’s associations and people telling me what I could or couldn’t do with my land.”
Woods said the issue of a county planning and zoning commission had more to do that just wind farms.
“When the wind farm was initially proposed, it included plans for a few turbines to be placed in a rural area that technically falls within Piedmont city limits,” he said. “Though there are no longer wind turbines proposed within the city, a small group of primarily Piedmont residents is now trying to extend its influence on the county as a whole. If they achieve their goal, the county will have the authority to tell all unincorporated county residents what they can do on their land.”
For two hours, people on both sides of the issue spoke to the commissioners.
The county has two options if it does want to form a planning commission.
One option would be for a county-wide vote, and if it passed, a board would be comprised of three members appointed by the board of commissioners, one county commissioner and one member appointed by each mayor of each incorporated city or town having a population of 1,000 or more.
The other option would not require a county-wide vote, but the commission would be created by a resolution of the board of commissioners and a municipality. A three-mile buffer would be extended around that municipality for planning. Board members would be comprised of four members appointed by the mayor of the municipality, four members appointed by the commissioners and one member appointed by each incorporated city or town within the jurisdiction of the commission.
District 2 commissioner David Anderson said he is against the idea of a planning commission.
“I think it is a layer of government we don’t need,” he said after the hearing. “I am for limited government and historically, planning commissions have been rested in municipalities.”
With commissioners Carson and Anderson voicing opposite opinions on the establishment of a planning commissioner, District 3’s Jack Stewart may very well be the deciding factor on what the county decides to do.
“Right now, I think the best and most fair thing to do would adopt the statute that provides a three mile buffer around a municipality,” Stewart said. “I really don’t like how that state statutes read about having a county-wide vote. I don’t like the idea of everyone voting on something that would affect only a portion of people in the county.”
The commissioners will discuss the issue and possibly make a decision at their next regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 14.
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