The Reno County Planning Commission agreed Tuesday to set a Nov. 18 public hearing on proposed changes to both the county’s Comprehensive Plan and its zoning regulations to prohibit commercial wind development in the zoned portions of the county.
Also to be taken up at that meeting will be a proposal to create an overlay district for the remaining non-zoned portions of the county that would enable the county to regulate wind in those un-zoned areas in the future.
The specific regulations that would apply in those areas remain pending before the Reno County Commission.
County Planner Mark Vonachen emphasized the proposed language creating the new overlay district stipulates that no other county zoning regulations except for wind would apply there.
The hearings will occur during the Planning Commission’s monthly meeting, starting at 4:30 p.m. in the Reno County Public Works building in South Hutchinson.
Thursday’s action setting the hearings was in response to a directive that the Reno County Commission issued last month to the planning board. The commission, at the same time, imposed a 90-day moratorium on wind development in the county.
By law, the County Commission can’t make the zoning changes without the Planning Commission first holding a public hearing and then forwarding its recommendations to the board.
At Thursday’s meeting, Vonachen outlined the proposed changes to the county policies to accomplish what the county commission requested.
A planning consultant from Wichita, the county counselor, and the public works director have all reviewed the changes, Vonachen said.
Planning Commissioner Ken Jorns asked if the board could delay acting on the proposal for one month to allow time to study and better comprehend the nearly one dozen proposed changes to the policy text. Vonachen said they could, but the commission desired to complete the hearing before the end of the year, while the moratorium was in place. And if changes need to be made after the public hearing, that would likely be done at the board’s December meeting.
When the board eventually voted, Jorns was the lone ‘no’ vote, citing the desire for more time.
The proposed changes include amending Chapters 7 and 9 of the 2018 Comprehensive Plan.
The first change is adding language to a paragraph on land uses on page 54 of the plan that expands the designation of single-family residential as the desired primary use to include “designated areas around Cheney Reservoir and areas within the northeast and southeast quadrants of the county.”
The next change is under “Other Special Land Uses” on page 55, in a paragraph about anticipated changes in technology. It adds “Prohibition may be necessary to protect the development of future urban areas and existing and future suburban area population bases, particularly in Eastern Reno County. The K-96 Corridor may also be preserved for future urban development with a prohibition.”
“The process to evaluate an application for a Conditional Use Permit for a Wind Energy Conversion system could take months to complete, and a potential moratorium on the development of wind farms could be considered by the county,” the language continues.
“The same general policies regarding any potential ‘commercial solar energy systems’ or ‘solar panel farms’ should apply as noted for the wind farms above.”
Under the Comprehensive Plan objectives in Chapter 9, added to the objective of promoting low-density rural housing within the county was “Seek and add zoning protections from incompatible land uses for residential development within the high-growth areas in the northeast and southeast quadrants of the county….”
In the County Zoning Regulations, language was added to Articles 1, 13, and 15, and a new Article 24 was created. In Articles 1 and 13, Commercial Wind Energy Conversion System District (CWECS) was simply added as a definition.
The bulk of the change was to Article 15, which lists prohibited land uses. Commercial wind would become the seventh specifically prohibited use, joining such things as mobile homes, junkyards and shipping containers.
The proposal states that no conditional use permit applications will be considered or permits issued for a wind farm except in a designated CWECS zoning district.
A new Article 24 then creates those zoning districts and refers to Article 23 for wind regulations that apply within those districts.
Article 23 includes the regulations that have been pending for months before the county commission, setting minimum setbacks and noise and shadow restrictions for wind farms.
During the Nov. 18 meeting, the board will conduct three separate public hearings, on the Comprehensive Plan changes, zoning regulation changes, and creating the new zoning district. Since it’s a public hearing, the public will be allowed to speak on each one.
He doesn’t anticipate a crowd, Vonachen said, but they will have extra viewing set up in the building lobby and, if the crowd dictates it, they could also move or schedule an additional hearing, Vonachen said.
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