Saturday, October 13, 2007

Zoning is ‘give and take’

(submitted to Hays Daily News, October 13)

I want to commend Jo Kraus for some valid points she made in her recent letter, “Zoning issue could split county further”. I presume she means ‘further than the wind farm debacle already has’. I think she is quite correct that the majority of rural residents in Ellis County were against zoning because of concerns about their private interests and the potential loss of individual freedoms on their own lands.

The majority of land in Ellis County is zoned agricultural and Jo is also right that those who move out to live in such areas must accept agricultural activities. I must accept being showered with dust because one of my neighbors refuses to farm no-till and insists on tilling his land incessantly. I must accept herbicide drift onto my property when the wheat gets sprayed, and I must accept the bad smell of an oil well when the wind blows the wrong way. But these were all factors I was able to balance in my decision to buy my property, not something imposed on me after the fact.

However, rural residents are not obliged to accept living in the middle of an industrial park on agriculturally zoned land, just because someone wants to call it a wind ‘farm’. When they happened to be cash-poor, many land-wealthy farmers sold small tracts of land very profitably to townspeople on the promise of a quiet country lifestyle. Now some of these same farmers want to industrialize the surrounding landscape for their personal gain, effectively destroying the value of what they have already sold. Who can have sympathy for them?

Like it or not, we now have zoning in Ellis County, albeit without majority support, and without any form of comprehensive plan to guide it. But zoning does provide people with something in return for surrendering those formerly limitless freedoms – a measure of protection from their neighbors. As one of the architects of zoning, we should thank Jo for leaving us recourse to a formal protest petition, the one legal mechanism that can prevent people from profiting at the expense of their neighbors.

However, it is widely predicted that a new application by Krista Gordon and company will judiciously alter the wind project boundaries so as to exclude the protest petition and subject a large number of property owners to a noxious development they have already overwhelmingly rejected using a valid legal tool. After all, they know who we are, they know where we live, and they need only pull back 1001 feet from our property lines to be technically within the letter of the law.

The letter of the law perhaps, but certainly not the spirit of the law. We can only hope that our County Commission will honor the spirit of zoning law and the legal result of the protest petition when (not if) Iberdrola returns asking for a waiver of the one year waiting period to submit their new application. Based on the previous performance of Berens and Pfannenstiel, I’m betting they won’t, but I sincerely hope they prove me wrong.

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