ELM SPRINGS – The Elm Springs City Council voted unanimously to table the rezoning of 311 acres for a wind farm Monday night.
The Kenneth Price Road property, recently annexed by the city is currently zoned agricultural and the request was to change it to industrial.
The Planning Commission recommended the change. A bill of assurances from developers delivered to council members states in the event the property is zoned industrial that for five years following approval development will be limited to a wind farm and if the wind farm is not developed within five years the property will revert to an agricultural zoning.
Mayor Harold Douthit opened the meeting for comment prior to the vote. Nine people addressed the council in a variety of appeals. Several spoke about declining property values related to the rezoning issue.
Frieda Rogers lives 160 feet from the property line of the proposed wind farm. She recently sold 17 acres and it was hard, Rogers said.
“We don’t feel like the industrial should be in with the residential,” she said.
Jonathon Hamby presented 244 signatures to take the matter to a vote of the people just prior to the meeting. Hamby said he’d been told they needed 108 signatures to bring the matter to a vote.
Not all property owners would be able to vote.
Jeff House lives in Tontitown by about 20 feet, but his property borders the proposed wind farm. The area may be rural but there’s a community of homes there, House said. He asked the council to move the issue back to the county so there would be representation by those most affected.
Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, urged caution.
“I would just urge a little more time and a little more study going forward,” Lundstrum said.
After discussion, council members voted to set up a special email address that will go live this afternoon to take questions for the developer for two weeks.
“We have heard from the public. We know all the questions you want to ask,” said Laquita Maxwell, Ward 1 councilwoman.
What the council hasn’t heard from is Dragonfly Industries or its subsidiary Arkansas Wind Power.
Kevin Thornton, Ward 1 councilman, said there were questions left unanswered in the planning committee process.
Jeannie Burks, Ward 2 councilwoman, asked if the company was solvent.
Tom Kieklak, city attorney, said the city has no legal basis to require a five-year financial plan as Burkes requested.
Douthit said there may be questions the company refuses to answer to protect its business. Douthit said any further questions cannot be a debate.
“We’re costing these folks money and we’re not doing them any favors,” he said.
Maxwell said some answers may already exist. If there is an inspection or approval from a state or federal agency Maxwell said she would like to see it. If people heard from the company they may feel reassured, Maxwell said.
Council members also asked about the possibility of there being a bond to decommission the turbines so it would not fall on the city.
Attendance was high. Some 45 people at in the council chambers and another 20 waited outside.
Gary Burney, a regular at council meetings, said the turnout was unusual but the development might not be all bad.
That western side is in the crosshairs of growth, Burney said. And if Elm Springs wants to stay a city it must be proactive about growth. There was outcry when the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport was built, he said before the meeting, but long term it was good for property values. The wind farm could have the same effect for Elm Springs.
“I think it could be a very good investment for Northwest Arkansas,” Burney said.
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