Commissioners removed a hurdle from the path of Diamond Vista wind farm developers Monday by eliminating the overlay district created to restrict projects to the southeast corner of the county.
Recommended by the same county planning commission that created the restriction in 2004, the move in principle allows wind farms to be built anywhere in the county.
In practice, few areas are suitable for wind farms, and future projects, including Diamond Vista, still have to apply for conditional use permits that commissioners can approve or deny.
“We’ll consider applications anywhere within the county, but there are so many other parameters that come into play that some areas aren’t going to be functional, and people know that,” zoning consultant David Yearout said.
The restriction hasn’t kept Tradewind Energy of Lenexa from putting up wind measurement towers and acquiring lease agreements with landowners in the northwest part of the county. However, the overlay district would have precluded future construction.
Planning and zoning director Emma Tajchman said the planning commission felt “that times have changed and the overlay no longer applies.”
When the overlay district was enacted, the southeast part of the county was the only area where a wind farm could connect to the power grid to sell its electricity.
In subsequent years, construction of a substation at Hope and technological improvements in generating capacity and transmission line improvements made wind farms viable in the northern part of the county.
“The wind has always been there,” Tradewind senior development director Brice Barton said.
Barton pointed out that there were three operating wind farms and two under construction in Kansas when the county wrote its regulations. Today there are 25 operating wind farms and eight under construction.
“These regulations are great, but we can’t look at them as a fence that locks us in forever,” Commissioner Dan Holub said.
The planning commission will consider other regulatory changes proposed by Tradewind at an upcoming meeting.
Turning from wind to water, commissioners gave houseboat owners the green light Monday to put in at Marion County Park and Lake, so long as they’re gone by sundown each day.
In a decision six months in the making, commissioners approved a trial period through 2017 in which houseboats can be on the lake during daytime hours, but can’t be used for overnight stays.
Lake superintendent Steve Hudson first brought the issue to commissioners in April at the request of an individual Hudson declined to name.
At the outset of Monday’s debate it appeared commissioners had changed little from the opinions they held in April: Randy Dallke and Holub were opposed to houseboats being used for lengthy stays on the lake, while Lori Lalouette sought to find some middle ground.
“I just don’t want to turn people away, but at the same time I’m looking at the quality of life and enjoyment of the lake,” she said.
Noting that the size of the houseboat of the individual making the request was smaller than some pontoon boats that regularly use the lake, Lalouette suggested using existing state definitions for watercraft as a guide.
Holub countered with a motion to not allow houseboats on the lake at all.
“I don’t want another camping park on the water,” he said.
The motion died when neither Dallke or Lalouette would second it.
Hudson reiterated comments from April that he didn’t have any problems with houseboats being on the lake during the day, but that overnight stays posed a problem in effectively monitoring and enforcing lake rules.
Commissioners approved the compromise with the intent to monitor houseboat use during the trial period.
In other business:
A letter of application for a conservation grant to pay for repairs to the eroded bank of the South Cottonwood river along 190th Rd. was approved.
Economic development director Teresa Huffman reported the county could apply for a “slum and blight” grant of up to $400,000 to pay for demolition of the former Florence school building now owned by the county. Commissioners agreed to move ahead with the process, and asked Huffman to determine if other dilapidated properties the county has could be included in the grant.
A conditional use permit for a rock quarry near 290th and Zebulon Rds. was approved.
Robert Morse was the successful bidder at $600 for a 1992 Dodge truck formerly used at the lake.