Some members of the Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission think the county's current permit process hurts agriculture in Gage County, and hope to fix the problem as zoning regulations are reworked.
Currently, applications for a special use permit begin with the Planning and Zoning Commission, which has a public hearing and makes a recommendation to the Gage County Board of Supervisors.
The County Board then has its own hearing, in some instances multiple hearings, and votes to approve or deny the permit.
Questions have been raised if the system, which typically takes months before a final vote is taken, is efficient, given that the County Board has a recent history of not following Planning and Zoning's recommendation.
Myron Dorn, Chariman of the County Board, attended Tuesday’s meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission and said the process has been frustrating for county officials and those close to the permits.
“The last two the zoning board approved, the County Board did not,” Dorn said. “The presentations, the whole public hearing and all that and the conversation of the County Board, we’ve turned them down. I could get into a lot of reasons why. Part of the frustration coming from this board, and believe me I’ve heard it because I’ve been at quite a few meetings, is why are they doing the work, why are they making sure the setbacks are all met and our zoning regulations are all met. It goes to the County Board, the County Board (denies the permit).”
In March, supervisors rejected a special use permit to build two anhydrous ammonia tanks north of Ellis. Last July the board rejected a permit application for a poultry farm near Cortland. That farmer addressed concerns raised by the board and filed a new permit, which was later approved.
Both decisions by the board prompted appeals filed in Gage County District Court.
Opponents of the poultry farm argue that the county board didn’t follow the correct processes to approve the second permit.
Holtmeier Brothers Inc. filed an appeal in April after their permit for the anhydrous ammonia tanks was denied by the County Board, despite meeting the setback requirements and getting a unanimous approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Commission member Terry Acton expressed frustration with the permit process and zoning regulations, saying they’re hurting agriculture in Gage County. He also spoke out regarding a common question asked by opponents at public hearings for special use permits, "did the applicant inform the neighbors that he or she was applying for a permit."
“That has evolved with the last chicken problem, I think,” he said. “I got to tell you, my neighbors don’t come and tell me what they’re going to do and I sure as hell ain’t going to tell them what I’m going to do. I don’t understand this Kumbaya where we get around the campfire moment and tell the neighbors what the hell we’re going to do. It’s ridiculous.”
Gage County Deputy Attorney Calynn Schuck said how the County Board has recently interpreted regulations has been detrimental to agriculture production in the county.
“I think the way that the regulations are being interpreted right now that yes, they are preventing agriculture to be allowed in Gage County, in certain parts of Gage County,” she said.
Planning and Zoning Chairman Dennis Rosene said the regulations themselves don’t hurt agriculture, but added he wants to keep ag industries in mind as the process advances.
“I feel strongly that we have a very good comprehensive plan now,” he said. “I think it’s balanced well to preserve the rights of people who want to live in the county and the people who want to farm there… I think Gage County has a lot of resources and I think we do that through zoning.”
In April, the County Board approved an agreement with Hanna:Keelan Associates to reexamine the zoning regulations and comprehensive plan.
Gage County adopted zoning regulations in 1997 and Hanna:Keelan last updated the regulations in 2010.
Lonnie Dickson of Hanna:Keelan attended Tuesday's meeting to discuss the process and what kind of things the firm will adjust.
When asked about the special use permits being denied by the county, Dickson suggested the board has a different view because it considers different factors.
“The planning commission, they have to take the emotions out of the discussions,” he said. “They can only look at the factual information, what your regs say. What your regs provide for and don’t provide for. They’re not the governing elected body… The County Board, totally different ballgame. The emotions can flare up during conversations. As the elected entity you can take in other comments.”
The Planning and Zoning Commission’s next scheduled meeting with Hanna:Keelan officials will be Tuesday, Aug. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Gage County Courthouse.