Monday, May 7, 2007

Character & Vision

Ask anyone, “What are the three most important factors in real estate development?” and they will tell you, “Location, location and location”. Consequently, it is no surprise that the selection of the location for the industrial wind development proposal in Ellis County is at the center of the current debate. As most are aware, substantial problems have been identified with this particular location. Even still, I would submit to you that the debate about the location of this development is about more than just physical space occupied by the monstrous industrial machines; it’s about the character of an entire community.

As we all know, various communities have differing interests in the types of development they desire. For example, Lawrence (Douglas County) has depicted itself with a progressive flair, with the University of Kansas at the center of its image. Dodge City has held out the “Cow-town” banner, accompanied by large feedlots, packing houses and images of the old west. Larned has sustained their community with a multitude of programs housing both patients with severe mental illnesses and high risk criminal populations. Each community has its own image and as a result, attracts that type of development.

What kind of image does Hays want? Currently we have two major industries here, education and medical service. Hays is not an “industrial” town. In this way, we attract developments, and have an image more like Lawrence than Larned or Dodge City. Most of the people who stay in or relocate to Hays chose to do so, at least in part, for that reason.

To maintain an image, communities are cautious about the types of development they allow. For instance, it is unlikely that Lawrence and Douglas County would allow the types of development that Larned or Dodge City attract. In fact, it’s not just unlikely, it is well documented.

A couple years ago, Lawrence garnered state wide news coverage after it was revealed that a single sex offender from Larned was set to be released and housed in a state operated and staffed facility inside the city limits. Despite the fact he was to have around the clock supervision, the community reacted with fury, resulting in the passage of very restrictive zoning laws regarding where such individuals were allowed to live.

In effect, Lawrence used the power of zoning to protect the character of the community. Lawrence has long cultivated their image as a hub of education and culture, and their leaders rightfully recognized that if developments of this kind were allowed into their community, it would certainly begin to change the way people perceive them. This change would ultimately result in an overall loss of economic opportunity, as they would no longer be able to attract or maintain the kind of development they desire.

Interestingly, this same individual lived for many quiet years in Larned prior to his proposed move to Lawrence. What is more, it may surprise some to learn that Larned welcomed not just this one offender, but entire facilities of them. The community of Larned has also worked hard to cultivate an image, and this in turn has lead to the attraction of these programs. When one looks at the realities that Larned and other small Kansas towns face, it makes perfect sense. Without a niche, these communities could not survive in the current economic reality of Northwest Kansas.

Spearville, Montezuma and other communities that have welcomed industrial wind have difficulty attracting development of any kind. If industrial wind developments do have a positive economic benefit, they are far more likely to do so in communities such as these. Whatever the case, it is obvious that when a community allows a wind development, it changes the character and image of that community from that point forward. (What do you think of when you think of Spearville?) Unfortunately, these small communities have little to lose, either accept a new image or slowly decline into oblivion.

Ellis County is the largest population center in northwest Kansas and the only one not declining over time. Hays is the economic, educational, medical and cultural hub of Northwest Kansas and as such, we have the luxury of being more like Lawrence than Larned. We can be more selective about the kind of development we allow. It is essential to continue to mold the character of our community in harmony with the image we would like to project. If we allow a development of this kind, it will surely result in a change of character, a net economic loss and a reduction of overall development and growth.

Zoning was designed and implemented to promote a vision for Ellis County and to protect against threats to that vision. Soon our elected representatives will decide whether or not to rezone over 20,000 acres of Ellis county land for an industrial wind development right next to Hays. Before they do, there are two questions that they need to ask themselves. What is the vision for the character of our community? What kind of development is consistent with that character?

As they weigh these and other questions regarding the industrial wind proposal, we all should do the same. This is our community, our character and our vision. Our voice should be heard.

To Sign the Petition:
If you are an Ellis County, Kansas, resident and you wish to support a petition to stop this wind farm from being constructed next to Hays, Kansas, you can follow this link and leave your name, real address, and a single comment about your support of this petition. Click here now!

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