Parsons planners are recommending what would amount to a ban on wind farms in the extraterritorial area surrounding the city.
Besides the Parsons Planning Commission, only three city officials and one person from the public attended a Tuesday evening public hearing on the issue.
“Apparently it’s not a hot topic,” Planner Lowell Wells said.
The committee agreed to recommend to the city commission an amendment to the city’s zoning codes that would limit the height of wind energy conversion systems, or turbines, in the 3-mile area outside the city to 150 feet tall. The recommendation also includes a required setback of at least twice the height of a turbine, including blades, from all property lines.
The 3-mile zone is the extraterritorial area in which the city can enforce its building and zoning codes. It generally encompasses a 3-mile radius surrounding the city except for property in Neosho County and within the Great Plains Industrial Park. All wind turbines already are banned from city limits.
The city commission will consider the recommendation during its regular meeting on Nov. 18.
City Commissioner Tom Shaw initiated the planning commission’s effort to restrict wind turbines in the 3-mile zone because he was concerned about the potential of a wind farm with turbines taller than 600 feet encroaching on the city limits. Shaw’s concern was sparked by the development of the Neosho Ridge Wind project in Neosho County. He also unsuccessfully sought a greater setback of Neosho Ridge windmills near Lake Parsons.
Shaw was happy with the planners’ recommendation. He noted that he has driven by turbines near Moran and didn’t think anyone would build a house near them. Although Shaw wants more new homes to be built in town, even those built outside the city are beneficial to Parsons.
“I couldn’t imagine anybody building a new home in the footprint of a wind farm,” Shaw said.
Planner Greg Chalker suggested the planning commission consider a 200-foot height restriction on turbines in the 3-mile zone, and the other members agreed. The height restriction essentially would ban commercial wind energy projects in the area because much taller turbines would be required to make an investment worthwhile. The planners steered away from an outright ban on wind turbines because they didn’t want to disallow residential turbines used for personal energy. In September, the planners set Tuesday as the date of the required public hearing to approve the recommendation.
Mel Haas of rural Oswego, the only person from the public attending the hearing, suggested the planners lower the proposed height restriction from 200 feet to 125 feet. Haas, who has been outspoken about the regulation of wind farms near residential areas, said he has never seen a noncommercial turbine taller than 125 feet. Generally, they are only 60 to 70 feet tall, he said. Haas formerly lived in Illinois in the footprint of a wind farm. He said the taller a turbine is, the more noise it creates.
Haas also recommended the planning commission base turbine height restrictions on the amount of land available, but Chalker said he would rather not add more details to the amendment because that could lead to more room for interpretation of the rule.
Sharon Kendrick, planning commission chairwoman, said of the several wind turbine restrictions she read from different cities, all were more restrictive on height.
Ultimately, Richard Babcock moved that the planning commission approve the recommendation with a change in height restriction to 150 feet. He said after the meeting he arrived at that height as a compromise between Haas’ recommendation and the originally proposed height.
The planners were a little surprised that more people didn’t attend the hearing, although a few noted in the past it’s unlikely a wind farm would be built in the 3-mile zone with or without restrictions.
Chalker said he thought a recent Parsons Sun article about an energy company sending letters of inquiry to Labette County property owners would create more interest in the 3-mile zone restriction.
“I think we cut it off before it started,” Babcock said.
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