In a surprise move, Reno County Commission Chair Ron Hirst proposed on Tuesday the county impose a moratorium on commercial wind development for zoned areas of Reno County.
With no surprise, the suggestion didn’t go anywhere.
Instead, the board tabled until next month acting on regulations the commission has been considering for the past several months.
The commission did informally agree, however, to consider at its next meeting a related suggestion from Hirst that the county initiate public discussions or at least informational sessions on expanding zoning to other parts of the county.
Commissioner Daniel Friesen’s successful motion to table for six weeks considering adopting the proposed Wind Energy Conversion System regulations wasn’t in response to Hirst’s effort. Rather, Friesen said, it’s intended to push parties on both sides to continue negotiating on a solution.
“I like the pressure associated with the decision not being final,” Friesen said. “I’ve seen activity from both parties, working toward either some sort of compromise or better communications with each other.”
“I know if we just kick it down the road (by adopting the regulations as proposed) we’ll be on the same exact trajectory we were on two years ago,” Friesen said. “Some people called me indecisive. But I’m making a strategic decision not to make a decision final that will take the heat off and we won’t get what we want in this county.”
After the meeting, Friesen said he wasn’t “aware of all the conversations occurring,” but that he believed the Chamber and its Economic Development Action Council “have taken up the role of mediating to try to bring something to the commission that is palatable to all parties.”
The regulations are now set to be back on the commission agenda on May 25.
Hirst began the discussion proposing that the county draw a line along Dean Road to create a boundary for a moratorium to the east and that any part of the county west of that is open to development.
In areas between Dean Road and the current boundary that the county is zoned, the county could initiate discussions “in the next 60 to 90 days” with those residents on what zoning means and “how it would affect or not affect them.”
“We’ve been talking about this for two years,” Hirst said. “This is a way to get started and still enable a good chunk of the county to be able to be considered for wind energy.”
His goal, Hirst said, is to prohibit wind development in areas of the county with high residential density.
“To me, this makes it easier for our planning commission and planning and zoning, who have asked for direction,” he said.
Commissioner Ron Sellers asked what the point of that would be since the regulations wouldn’t apply in the unzoned portions of the county anyway. Hirst then suggested a countywide overlay zone for wind, which has been discussed several times but not pursued by the planning commission.
Friesen said it might be a good time “to test the water” to see if there is any interest in zoning to the west or an overlay zone, but that it should be a separate issue handled by the planning commission.
“I have difficulties with changing the line,” Sellers said. “It’s an arbitrary line… It seems to me you’re making this too difficult. In my mind, there is never going to be a project in southeast Reno County because they’ve got the right to petition. We know in the past they had enough ability to get enough petition holders it requires a super-majority vote (of the county commission.) There is not a super-majority vote on this commission.”
Eventually, Sellers sided with Friesen and voted to table the issue.
Friesen then suggested Hirst draft an agenda item for the next meeting to talk about expanding zoning, laying out the scope of what he’s seeking.
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