EL RENO – Canadian County Commissioners took no action regarding the formation of a planning and zoning commission for the unincorporated areas of the county at their meeting on Monday. The issue arose from residents living in Piedmont who voiced their concerns of the growing Apex Wind Energy Kingfisher Wind Farm that is expected to make its way near the city.
After hearing from dozens of concerned county residents regarding the issue at the meeting, District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson made a motion to establish a metropolitan area planning commission, which would not require a vote from the people.
“I am very concerned about these wind towers coming in and being right next to housing additions and schools,” Carson said. “You know, we can discuss it and talk about it and we’ve beat it to pieces. With that, I am going to make a motion. We don’t have time to kick this around. Time is of the essence and this is to protect the people in my district and I am all for this at this time.”
No second was given to Carson’s motion and a vote was not given on the issue.
District 2 Commissioner David Anderson said he was not comfortable with the commission, which 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.
“I think this would require an attorney general’s opinion to see if this statute is available to us,” Anderson said. “This statute would not require a vote from the people and I have an issue with that. I believe this issue should require a vote of the people, especially those that it would affect. I am also concerned that this metropolitan planning commission could cause current structures to be removed for ‘non-conforming use.’ I am not comfortable giving a commission that power.”
Anderson said he was also uncomfortable with the fact that a metropolitan planning commission’s rules and laws could supercede existing homeowners’ covenants and regulations that are already in place.
“I believe in protecting the rights of property owners and I also believe in the government protecting the value of someone’s property,” Anderson said. “I believe that planning and zoning is a municipal function. All of the city limits in the county have planning and zoning commissions and for the county to expand into that scope of services is a big step that I am not prepared to make at this time. I also think that people in unincorporated areas who are right next to the city limits, that want that protection of planning and zoning, should ask that city to annex their property.”
Anderson said he did not think county government had a place in regulating wind energy.
“I was surprised to learn that there is no state level of oversight or regulation,” he said. “I believe the Corporation Commission is the government agency that is best suited for regulating wind energy development, not a new layer of government that has no experience regulating the energy industry.”
District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart stated that he was not comfortable with some of the wording in the current state statutes that address a metropolitan planning commission.
“I don’t think this issue has died today at all, this is just the beginning,” Stewart said. “We need to get everybody together, including our state legislators. Overall, I don’t like the way the current state statutes are written. I can almost assure you that there will be lawsuits if we proceed with this and it would slow the whole process down. I think it will work a whole lot faster if we try to work together on this.”
Carson stated that he plans to place the issue on the board’s agenda again next week for their meeting on Monday, Jan. 21.
“I’m going to put in on for next week,” Carson said. “We have to do something. I want to protect my citizens and that’s what I plan on doing.”
People packed the commissioners’ meeting room on Monday morning to listen to the discussion on the issue.
Maurice Woods, who began a support group called Protection of Private Property Rights, was one of several people who spoke to commissioners at the meeting regarding the issue.
“The main dispute here is about wind turbines,” Woods said. “I think the government meddling with private property rights is unwarranted. I heard that Apex is trying to work things out with the landowners. I would ask the commissioners to give time for those private discussions to work, allow Apex to address the issues of setbacks and other things, rather than impose on the entire county a planning and zoning commission that no one wants. We are swatting at a fly with a Howitzer.”
Daniel Bourne, who lives in Piedmont, said he would prefer a vote on the issue, but said he would accept a three-mile buffer around his city to give him and his city some protection.
“I believe that a predatory corporation coming into our community, which will devalue my property, is not my friend but my enemy,” Bourne said. “I don’t have the money or the resources to take on a multi-million dollar corporation. They are not a ‘fly’, they are a multi-million dollar corporation. The commissioners have a tough decision in front of them, but they have given us a compromise to put a three-mile buffer zone around our city. I would prefer a vote, but the three-mile buffer zone seems to be a good alternative. That will allow each individual community to organize their citizens to have say in this. If we cannot get a vote, at least this would give us a petition in what goes on in our communities.”
Representatives from Apex Wind Energy stated that they encourage county officials to enter into a development agreement, a legally binding document that would establish specific setbacks, sound specifications, road use agreements and decommissioning practices. The company said they have dealt with other communities with similar issues without a planning and zoning commission being established.
The topic of a county planning and zoning commission has been a hot topic for the last month. The county held a public hearing on the issue earlier this month so citizens could speak their concerns to commissioners.
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