What started out three years ago as an idea to make it easier to launch cultural and tourism-related businesses in rural Douglas County has turned into a much more complicated debate over how much urban-level regulation ought to stay in place for such enterprises.
As a result, county commissioners agreed Wednesday night to have planning staff take another stab at drafting language that can get the unanimous vote that is now required for approval.
At issue is a proposal that first came from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to establish a new kind of permit for operating businesses on land zoned for agricultural use if those businesses are registered as an “agritourism operator” with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
But because county commissioners have already made substantial changes to the planning commission’s original proposal, the county’s rules say it now takes a unanimous vote to approve the revised plan.
Commissioner Jim Flory, however, is insisting on a number of additional changes that he says are needed to protect the interests of surrounding property owners and the community at large, but which other commissioners and some business owners believe could be too cumbersome.
Most of the controversy concerns businesses designed to host “assembly type” such as fairs, festivals and concerts, as well as weddings and receptions, that would tend to attract large numbers of people on a regular basis.
The draft language commissioners considered Wednesday night proposed that permit applications for those types of events would have to come before the County Commission for review if it is expected those events will attract 150 or more people at a time.
Planning Commissioner Rick Hird, who chaired a task force that drafted the language, said that was a significant compromise, even though he believed the threshold should be much higher.
But Flory is insisting the threshold be set at 100. He said that would not prohibit issuing permits for activities that draw more people but would only trigger an additional step in the review process so commissioners could hold a public hearing and receive comment from any neighbors who might object.
Flory also asked for changes that would require farm-related buildings that are used to host events such as barns and “Murphy buildings” to comply with county building codes, including capacity limits, and entrance and exit requirements. The original proposal would have exempted those buildings from certain requirements.
Planning staff for the county will draft new language meeting Flory’s requests and bring that proposal back to the commission next Wednesday. If the three commissioners can agree on that language, they will then have a formal resolution prepared for another vote later to officially adopt the new procedures.
In other business, the commission:
• Requested changes to a proposal to establish an application and review process for special event permits in unincorporated parts of Douglas County and directed the new language be brought back to the commission next Wednesday.
• Approved pay raises for county employees for 2013 amounting to an average of 3 percent, including a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment for eligible employees and a pool equal to 1.5 percent of current salary to be distributed as merit raises.
• Authorized a cross access easement in a cluster development near 977 East 100 Road.
• Authorized a cross access easement in a cluster development on property near North 1000 and East 1450 roads,
• Authorized the public works director to approve change orders up to 9 percent of the total project cost on a road reconstruction project on Route 1055 between U.S. Highway 56 and Route 12.