Prompted by a discussion of the County Planning Commission late last month, the Reno County Commission on Tuesday agreed to schedule a conversation next week on whether to create a countywide “overlay zone” that could be used to regulate future commercial wind farm developments.
A consultant assisting the planning board in drafting a new Comprehensive Plan for the county previously suggested the mechanism for controlling wind and solar development, as well as looking at using it to regulate “more onerous” land uses, such as large confined animal feeding operations or salvage yards.
Two-thirds of the county is currently unzoned, and so falls outside of zoning regulations that require notification of residents of such planned developments, and set conditions such as distance setbacks from homes or neighboring properties for some types of land uses.
The Planning Commission initially debated including the measure in the comprehensive plan, but then backed off the idea.
The county’s consultant suggested the county consider the idea when the Planning Commission presented an unfinished draft of the Comprehensive Plan to the County Commission in late July, but the commission didn’t give any direction at that time.
The planning commission again took up the question at its last meeting, but agreed to wait for guidance from the commission or county administrator before pursuing anything.
That after the consultant, Russ Ewy, of Baughman and Co. in Wichita, suggested the county should impose a one-year moratorium on wind development to accomplish the new zoning.
“The question is, would people want this?” County Administrator Gary Meagher said. “Would you want to see them (the Planning Commission) pursue this? And what would be within it? Just wind farms or the other things they talked about?”
Commissioners Dan Deming and Bob Bush both expressed interest in discussing the issue further.
Commission Chairman Ron Hirst, however, indicated some opposition if the zoning could be extended to commercial feedlots.
“When this was first brought up, I thought ‘What if I have 10 acres and want free-range hogs?’” Hirst said. “Where does it start and stop?”
There are already state controls over feedlots and large chicken operations, he noted.
“As far as wind farms are concerned, it’s something we ought to control countywide,” Deming said. “For road maintenance at least, and the public needs an opportunity for notification and input if a wind farm is near their property. We need the ability to overview the whole plan. I’m very much in favor of the Planning Commission developing something for wind farms to be included in the rules for review in zoned areas. It’s unfair to people in unzoned areas not to have the same input.”
Include solar farms as well, Deming said, in response to a question from Meagher.
“I don’t know about feedlots,” Bush said. “I’m in receptive to considering it, but there’s no question in my mind we should look at wind farms.
“Maybe start out with that,” Deming said. “The sooner we have control over wind farms the better.”
Bush suggested that County Planner Mark Vonachen and Planning Commission Chair Lisa French, “and any other commission members that want to,” attend the next commission meeting to present information.
Meagher advised that Vonachen is out this week, but he’d ask him to attend next week. If he’s not available, they will schedule it on the agenda in two weeks.
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