After a long delay, the Douglas County Commission will waste little time in the new year before tackling one of the more controversial issues likely to come before it in 1992.
On Wednesday, the commission will review and discuss "A Call to Planning Action for the '90s," more commonly known as the Rural Development Planning Report.
The county commission received the report, developed by an ad hoc committee of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, Sept. 18 at a marathon meeting. A host of speakers from the rural parts of the county decried the report as governmental intrusion into private property rights.
Controversy over the report centers on its proposed change of the five-acre exemption to 40 acres. The current exemption allows residential development in rural parts of the county, without platting or other zoning requirements, on land zoned for agricultural uses as long as the development occurs on a minimum five-acre tract.
WEDNESDAY'S meeting will be the county's first discussion of the report since September. Commissioners indicated separately that they only planned to discuss the report and receive public comment, although the meeting is not a public hearing.
The county commission earlier had said that public hearings on the report would be conducted both by the planning commission and county commission before the report is adopted.
The planning committee reported that "80 percent of rural residential development is unregulated because of the five-acre exemption," which causes "unplanned or sprawl residential development." The report theorizes that the larger land tracts would slow rural development and make rural growth more manageable from a planning standpoint.
Most of the 14 speakers at the September meeting felt otherwise. The consensus concerns revolved around the potentially high costs for platting property, the possible difficulty of deeding property to children and that the increase to 40 acres was too large.
RETENTION of the five-acre exemption has its backers on the commission. Commission Chairman Louie McElhaney, the only commissioner who lives in the rural part of the county, said he was "obligated" to the five-acre exemption by a 1988 campaign promise. However, he said he would consider changes to the exemption in certain areas if given public backing.
"I would be in favor of looking at something different right around the close edge of Lawrence, if my constituents could help me support that," he said.
McElhaney said he knows how rural landowners feel about property rights. He said landowners would have to be well informed on the benefits of any land-use changes.
"I don't think anybody out here is opposed to doing what they think is right," he said. "But at the same time, they don't want so many restrictions put on them."
COMMISSIONER Mike Amyx said he remains a supporter of the five-acre exemption.
"I think 40 (acres) is an awfully large amount," he said. "I have some comments, too, to make next week."
Commissioner Mark Buhler, a former planning commission member, said the five-acre exemption creates unregulated growth, "But the question is, is that bad? In some areas of the county, I think it creates some impact, and maybe in some others it doesn't."
He added that the county commission must be careful if it sets different acreage exemptions for different areas of the county.