Gary Stith presents on comprehensive plans
The possibility of zoning has been a hot topic throughout Nemaha County since the approval of the Soldier Creek Wind Farm just a few months ago. Since then, Nemaha County Commissioners – Gary Scoby, Dennis Henry and Tim Burdiek – have been working on obtaining someone knowledgeable enough on zoning to come present. After multiple presentations were canceled, the commissioners were finally able to lock someone down.
During the Monday, Sept. 30, commissioners meeting, Gary Stith – director of Flint Hills Regional Council (FHRC) – presented to the commissioners and a group of approximately 40 county residents. David Breiner of Wabaunsee County also was asked to present at the meeting, but was unable to attend. Breiner, however, provided the commissioners with a list of zoning discussion questions and answers. A full copy of these questions and answers can be found on our website at SabethaHerald.com.
Commissioner Scoby opened the presentation portion of the meeting by saying this was strictly an informational meeting and informed those present that the commissioners would not be taking action following the presentation.
“We are still considering whether an exploratory committee might be utilized for zoning Nemaha County, Kansas,” Commissioner Scoby said before introducing Stith.
“The reason I was asked to come was because we did a comprehensive plan for Wabaunsee County just recently,” Stith said. “I know there has been an effort to reach out to Wabaunsee County, because they do not permit wind farms and I understand that is a concern here in this county [Nemaha County]. The comprehensive plan we did, specifically has a policy recommendation that there not be any wind farms.”
According the Stith, the reason Wabaunsee County did a comprehensive plan was because Kansas State Statute says if a county is going to implement zoning, they must first have a comprehensive plan. The zoning ordinances then have to be based on what is in the comprehensive plan.
“If you want to eliminate wind farms, you will want to say that in the comprehensive plan,” Stith said. “Then you will want to develop zoning that would restrict wind farms, if that was an objective that the community agreed to as a part of the comprehensive plan.”
Stith continued by saying he wasn’t here to specifically talk about zoning.
“I have 43 years of experience in planning, so I know a lot about zoning, but that isn’t the reason I am here really,” Stith said. “If you’re going to do zoning, you have to have a comprehensive plan.”
According to Stith, a comprehensive plan is still beneficial even if the county does not implement zoning.
“Comprehensive plans outline what the aspirations are for the community and what you hope to accomplish, and how you might go about accomplishing that,” Stith said. “It can deal with a lot of different issues, besides land use. It can deal with infrastructure, recreation, and development in the towns. So it can have a lot of functions even if you don’t decide to zone Nemaha County.”
Stith also said comprehensive plans can be beneficial for economic development.
“It can identify infrastructure needs in both the county and the towns,” he said. “This plan should be used by people in the business community, and property owners, so they know what the community wants or needs, and can make business decisions based on what is in that plan. For people who are buying property, they can look at the plan and know what might be happening around that property, or the area around their property. It should be useful for things other than just zoning. It should be useful to other people rather than just the governing body.”
As for a timeline, Stith said a comprehensive plan could take about nine months.
“The schedule really depends on the amount of public participation, and we want to encourage public participation,” Stith said. “We had public meetings in every community in Wabaunsee County. Public participation in the process is critical, and we would have a series of meetings throughout the county to talk about what the communities want to see in the comprehensive plan.”
Stith noted the first thing to be done if the county wants to do a comprehensive plan, is to set up a steering committee. The steering committee would then take the comprehensive plan to the County’s Planning and Zoning Board – which Nemaha County does not currently have. The County’s Planning and Zoning Board would then take the comprehensive plan to the Nemaha County Commissioners for final approval. Once the comprehensive plan is approved by the County Commissioners, the county can begin working on zoning the county, if they choose to do so.
Bob Carson of Wetmore asked about towns within Nemaha County who are either creating comprehensive plans or already have comprehensive plans.
“In Wetmore, we are currently working on creating a comprehensive plan,” he said. “If the county passes a comprehensive plan, does it supersede what we have done? Or how do you match the two?”
Stith said that other counties who are creating comprehensive plans, and have towns who already have comprehensive plans, just “insert” those plans for those towns into the County’s plan, which is what Stith recommended for Nemaha County.
As for cost to the county, one patron present asked what the cost of creating a comprehensive plan would be for the county.
Stith said a very rough guess would be in the range of $55,000 to $60,000.
Commissioner Henry asked if the county proceeded with creating a comprehensive plan with FHRC, what the timeline would be to get started.
“We probably can’t do it until after the first of the year,” Stith said.
Following Stith’s presentation, Scoby said the comprehensive plan is the first step in a long process.
“I anticipate we will try to get David [Breiner] up here,” Scoby said. “I think we also need a zoning attorney to come and speak.”
As of Tuesday morning, Oct. 1, no plans had been made for when the next speaker might come.
As for the six-month moratorium the commissioners approved on May 13, 2019, Carson asked the commissioners if they were planning to extend the moratorium.
“Yes,” Scoby said. “It currently goes through the end of October, but we anticipate extending it.”
Carson asked how long the commissioners would extend the moratorium for.
“I would say six months, with the opportunity to renew it again at any given time,” Scoby said.
The Flint Hills Regional Council is made of 26 local jurisdictions and covers seven counties. According to Stith, FHRC receives grants for various projects in their region. Over the past seven years, FHRC has brought in over $7 million in grants. Members of FHRC pay dues based on $0.60 per person in the population of that jurisdiction.