Monday, November 5, 2007

More Zoning Irregularities

(Submitted to HDN, Nov. 5)

What is 340 feet tall and makes a mockery of zoning in Victoria? Answer: A proposed cell phone tower with a rigged application. Just like the wind farm, it is not the project itself, as much as the process, that should concern Ellis County citizens.

1. The permitted area.

Scrutiny of the application reveals that the area proposed for conditional use is only 100 ft by 100 ft - instead of the complete parcel of land. Why? To render a protest petition impossible and deny neighbors their legal right to object. Even the guy wires supporting the tower will extend beyond 100 feet. Some board members we spoke with were unaware they had voted to permit a tiny 'parcel within a parcel', assuming it was the entire property. If this is allowable, then anyone can zone a tiny subsection of their property for any purpose and bordering properties can be denied the legal recourse they are guaranteed by zoning law.

In responding to opponents' requests that the tower be moved closer to an existing waste lagoon, Mr. Wing noted that if the zoned area were changed, this would require a new application. Yet, the zoning board subsequently moved the tower 300 feet within the property, changing the zoned parcel. Why then was a new application not required?

2. Tower regulations.

Our zoning regulations state that any tower must remain at least half its height in distance from any property line. This is irregular because the standard is 1.5 times the tower height to provide safety for neighbors in case of a collapse. Nevertheless, even this regulation would seem to rule out a permit for a 340 ft. tower on a 100 ft square, as this could allow the placement of towers less than 1/3 their height from property lines. As proposed, the tower could collapse right across Hwy 40.

3. Description of the protest area.

The protest area outlined on the application map is a square 2,100 ft on each side. However, this square has been swiveled about 40 degrees counter clockwise from compass coordinates, the proper legal orientation. Why? Once again, the intent is to 'stack the deck' against any opposition and deny yet another group of opponents their right to be included in the protest area.

4. The Conditional Use Permit.

The CUP is a mechanism intended to provide a special exemption for a structure or activity that would not normally be a permissible land use in a zoned area. But without a comprehensive zoning plan, we have nothing guiding specific land uses anywhere in Ellis County, so the CUP can be abused by powerful landholders to put anything anywhere they want - provided they have a fix in with the zoning board. This abuse of the CUP contradicts the fundamental intent of zoning, which is to provide people with a reasonable expectation of future land uses in specific localities - before they buy their properties.

If this application is approved by our County Commission, it will create a very dangerous precedent, that of allowing CUPs for small plots of land drawn up at the whim of the applicant as to deny dissenting neighbors their legal right to protest. To issue a CUP for a small plot within a legal parcel flaunts the intent of zoning law because it allows any applicant to become, in effect, their own neighbor and circumvent the obligations they have to their real neighbors. What would prevent the same policy being applied to wind turbines? The county might well have to use tax dollars to defend such a decision in district court.

It is disturbingly evident that those leading our zoning board are not conducting zoning in the service of their community, but rather in the service of special interests. The people of Ellis County should stand up to Gene Bittel and Lance Russell and cry foul. It won’t be the first time either.

Citizens wishing to contact the Ellis County Environmental Awareness Coalition about their rights or concerns regarding the cell phone tower in Victoria, the industrial wind complex proposed just south and west of Hays, or any other related environmental impact or rural zoning issue, may write to us at P.O. Box 464, Hays, KS 67601, or directly contact these individuals:

  • Tim Davis, Co-Chair of ECEAC, todavis{at}, 785-623-3590
  • John Schmeidler, ECEAC Co-Chair, jschmeidler{at}, 785-259-4314
  • Jacinta Faber, Media Liaison, 785-628-8817
Additionally, any Ellis Co. citizens concerned about this tower proposed in Victoria, Kansas, should make their opinions known by attending Ellis County Commission meetings (Commission Room at the Courthouse, 1204 Fort Street, Hays, Kansas), held every Monday, and the Ellis County Planning & Zoning Meetings, held every month. Concerned citizens should also write letters to their county commissioners directly by mailing to 1204 Fort Street, Hays, Kansas. The three current commissioners for Ellis County are:
  • Perry S Henman, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 1st District (City of Ellis, western Hays & western Ellis Co.)
  • Dennis J Pfannenstiel, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 2nd District (central Hays & central Ellis Co.)
  • Vernon L Berens, Chairman, Ellis Co. Commissioner, 3rd District (Victoria, eastern Hays, & eastern Ellis Co.): 785-735-9364, 785-735-2883

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