By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Zoning Update: Solar Regulations
This photo shows an example of the solar panels Acciona Energy USA hopes to build in Barton County.

The Planning and Zoning Commission gave an update after the regular County Commission meeting and public discussion. There is currently a moratorium on large scale solar projects until March 31 and the P& Z Commission is working on regulations regarding large scale solar in the County.

In April the P& Z brought a recommendation to the County Commissioners that a six mile no build zone be created around Cheyenne Bottoms. The moratorium on large scale solar was a compromise between the Commissioners and the P& Z.

Environmental Manager/ Zoning Administrator Judy Goreham led the update discussion and stated that last week’s public hearing had 54 citizens in attendance but that Acciona had taken over six weeks to comment on the regulations that were proposed. “The end result of Thursday’s meeting was figured out before it started.” Goreham said. “Tuesday evening or Wednesday evening I received an email on my work cellphone from Acciona,” she continued, “They had taken over six weeks to comment on the proposed regulations.

“So before we even started, we knew if we’re going to actually look at this document, to see what they’re suggesting, by the way is over 600 changes, 653 proposed changes, that was something we knew right away, we wouldn’t be able to do.”

Commissioner Shawn Hutchinson asked about the 653 changes proposed by Acciona. “Why would Acciona be proposing changes when these are zoning regulations for the entire county, not for a specific project?”

Goreham told commissioners, “We feel that we have a very good document. We looked at this by taking three other regulations that are already enforced in Kansas, combining them, mashing them all together, and then starting on page one and making it appropriate for Barton County.”

Goreham expressed frustration from the Feb. 22 hearing.

“What was very frustrating is that we had explained to people, we’re here to talk about the regulations, have comments about the regulations. That’s the feedback, we want to hear. If and when an application is received, that’s when you give your opinions on the location where it’s proposing to be built, etc. So, I knew going into this, and our board knew going into this, that really the only thing that would really be argued would be the boundary for the no build zone, because that’s one of the things that were suggested to change or be added.”

Goreham also expressed concern that the general public has little knowledge of what is going on.

“I know that I have done everything I can to get this out. There has been lots of media coverage of this since January of last year. So if you don’t read the paper, you don’t listen to the radio, you don’t take an interest in county business, you maybe won’t know this is going on.”

The P& Z commission would like to see more public outreach with meetings in other towns around the county just as they did in 2013 for wind turbine regulations. Five of the nine P& Z members were a part of the 2013 wind regulations.

“If the county adopts these solar regulations, and three-quarters of this county doesn’t even know this is going on, and then the application comes in, they are going to be ticked off if they did not know about this. I don’t want that to come back on the county commissioners, and I certainly don’t want them to come back on the planning commission. So making an effort to do public outreach is the best way to keep that from happening,” Goreham said.

“I just know that we all feel very pressured to get you something, and we want to make sure it’s the right thing, and that everybody is comfortable with the process. They may not like any of it but that they’re comfortable and that we’ve done our due diligence for the process.”

Several residents, including one that is preparing to build a new home in the area proposed by Acciona, spoke to commissioners expressing concern over potential decreased property values with panels so close to the Bissell’s Point housing area.

Phil Amerine, who owns property near the project site and had intention to build a home, said, “We’re ready to build. Put a lot of money into architecture and design and done a lot of work on it. Found out about all this (solar farm), and there’s no way I’m investing that much money into that.”

Mike Niedens, a former builder, asked why this area which sees lots of activity was chosen as a potential site. “There’s a lot of people out there who invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in their property. I don’t think we want those property values to drop,” he said.

The next Planning and Zoning Commission meeting will take place Thursday, Feb 29 at 6 p.m. at Barton Community College Room F-30 in the Fine Arts Building. Public is encouraged to attend and no prior sign-up is required.