Commissioners, attorney discuss acreages for rural residences

The Marion County Commission, joined by several members of the county planning and zoning commission, met Monday with Topeka attorney Jim Kaup to discuss ways in which acreage requirements for rural residential construction might be reduced.

The three county commissioners seemed to favor measures that might take acreage required for a home down from five acres while maintaining a density of no more than one home per 40 acres to five acres anywhere.

They also would favor reducing acreage further on abandoned farmsteads and wherever else adequate room for water well and sewage requirements could be met.

Kaup has acted as consulting attorney for Marion County since 1996 on solid waste matters and planning. He said he specializes as an independent attorney for cities and counties, and he is chairman of the Shawnee County Planning Commission.

He told the commissioners the state doesn’t require counties to have county plans, but it is necessary in setting zoning rules to have one to fall back on to show consistency in philosophy of development in case of legal actions against the county in zoning decisions.

County Planning and Zoning Director David Brazil said he and planning committee members need to know only “where and how far” county commissioners want to go with zoning rules in order to work cooperatively.

Kaup asked for direction to that effect.

Commissioner Randy Dallke said he wanted the density requirement of no more than one five-acre homesite per 40 acres addressed.

He said he could see requiring no more than two or three acres for homesites where farmers wish to sell off old homesteads where nobody otherwise would live- “just enough for sewage and water requirements.”

Dallke said this reduction would relieve farmers from giving up additional acres of farmland in order to round out a homestead.

Dallke added he wanted to make sure each new rural resident approved on small acreages received the “ag disclaimer,” a document that says they know they are moving into an area where farmers have the right to do practices that might irritate others such as tillage practices that might raise dust, spraying with pesticides, and keeping animals that produce manure odor.

Brazil said the new county plan that began this year already mandates receipt of the ag disclaimer.

Kaup said a “right to farm rule on the books of Kansas since the 1920s” also gives farmers those rights as long as they aren’t negligent toward the health and property of others.

Dallke said his chief objective is “how can we get down from 40 acres to five so people can build anywhere. I would like to see 100 houses built on five-acre tracts in the county in the next 10 years.”

He added he would also want measures in place to halt the development of five-acre tracts if it seemed to be creating too much unwanted sprawl in the future.

Zoning Chairman Eileen Sieger said it would be rare to have a county go back on such a policy as having five-acre housing tracts once it was made.

She was joined by zoning commissioners Glen Unrau, Mary Avery and Bob Maxwell.

Brazil suggested they might want to take the acreage requirement down to one acre in defined “areas of urban influence” next to towns.

Kaup said on the latter measure, cities need to have a say in that development to make sure they aren’t “ringed in” by small acreages that would inhibit future expansion.

As to going to five acres, Kaup said the current plan is a good, professionally done plan that can be worked from in many ways to accomplish what is wanted without changing the basic plan.

Commissioner Dan Holub said he gets irritated when people talk of commuters to jobs outside Marion County as the main seekers of small acreages here.

“This county is not destined to go without jobs,” he said.

He said that attitude is part of the county’s problems, and that issues such as zoning must be started with to show a more “progressive” attitude.

Holub said he also would look for ownership of homes on small acreages to change frequently as persons accustomed to urban life lose some of their romanticism about living in the country, and get tired of factors like dust.

Kaup said that is where building closer to cities also would help because “cities are the best service providers around likely to be able to deal with residents’ problems.”

Algae report

Neil Whitaker of the Corps of Engineers at Marion Reservoir gave a power point photo display presentation to the commissioners on the chronic blue-green algae infestation at the reservoir that poses potential human health problems from toxins it releases.

Whitaker said there were earlier indications than normal of algae development in mid-May this year that apparently were curtailed by heavy rain.

He said the blue-green algae grows too plentifully compared to other varieties because of high phosphorus levels in the lake. He said the high phosphorus has been thought to be due to run-off water from 40 years of agriculture, but it also is true that phosphorus levels are high in “normally fertile” prairie soils.

He cited problems worldwide noting that the reservoir here isn’t unusual because the algae naturally develops in any standing basin of water.

Symptons of human reaction to algae toxins can range anywhere from rashes and stomach ache to death, he said. There have been no reported illnesses or fish kills in Kansas, and only one reported death in the United States in recent decades of a youth swimming in a golf course pond.

Improving farm conservation programs are helping clean up water, said Whitaker.

He cited a number of potential remedies ranging from chemical treatment and mechanical skimmers to expensive dredging.

He warned the public against thinking anything like the newly introduced zebra mussel might help because he said the mussel actually increases the problem through its habit of screening out blue-green algae in favor of eating more beneficial algaes and plants.

The commissioners promised they would draft a letter of support for efforts of algae containment at the reservoir.

Reservoir Manager Terry Holt said such shows of public support are necessary to get results because Corps employees aren’t allowed to lobby for federal funds.

Other business

In other business, the county commissioners accepted the resignations of two employees.

County Appraiser Dianna Carter resigned by letter effective June 30 saying she would be taking the same position in McPherson County.

Deana Olsen, an employee of the county emergency medical services, met with commissioners in executive session for personnel for 25 minutes after which it was announced that she had resigned with two weeks notice. The commissioners released her without working the two weeks, but did so with full pay, sick leave, compensating time and benefits.

The commissioners directed Warren Kreutziger, owner of Canada Bait, to get an update from County Attorney Susan Robson on current Kansas law before they might decide whether to allow him to sell beer on Sundays.

They gave Register of Deeds Faye Makovec permission to accept a $1,000 bid for a micro filming camera and processor that are outmoded by new micro filming out-sourcing of records that utilizes computer technology.

County Clerk Carol Maggard announced a $7,256 refund to the county on $85,199 in premium paid on workman’s comp insurance because of error.

The commissioners approved a road and bridge transport fuel bid of $13,417.40 from Cardie Oil of Tampa over a competitive bid of $13,232.50 from Cooperative Grain & Supply.

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