Both the Eudora and Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissions voted Wednesday to recommend denial of a permit application for Penny's Aggregate to develop a large sand pit mine along the Kansas River.
It will now be up to the Douglas County Commission to make a final decision in a vote tentatively scheduled for Feb. 27.
The Eudora planning group voted 4-0 to deny the permit. The vote on the Lawrence-Douglas County panel was 4-3 for denial.
That represented a reversal for the Lawrence-Douglas County group, which voted narrowly in October to recommended approval of the permit, subject to several conditions. But it was a consistent vote for the Eudora planning group, which has been solidly opposed to the proposal all along.
Although several concerns were raised during the lengthy public hearing, Eudora Planning Commissioner Johnny Stewart summed up the one issue that seemed most important in swaying votes: the choice between developing and marketing the county's natural resources, or protecting its most valuable farm land.
"It seems to be a competition between resources, whether it's land or sand," Stewart said.
Both of those goals are listed as priorities in the county's long range comprehensive plan, known as Horizon 2020.
The proposal called for developing a sand pit on 434 acres near the Kansas River, north of Eudora. It was a rare instance when the application had to go before both planning commissions because the site is in an unincorporated portion of Douglas County, but within the three-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction of Eudora's zoning authority.
Penny's sells the sand for use in concrete mixes and other construction material.
"The big thing for me is the destruction of class 1 and class 2 soils," Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioner Clay Britton said. "It's a decision about which resource we want to have available for use."
The proposal has been before the county commission once but had to be sent back to the planning commission because of a technical error in the public notification process. Property owners on the north side the river in Leavenworth County were not notified of the earlier public hearings, even though they live within the 1,000-yard radius where notification is required.
Several Leavenworth County residents came to Wednesday's hearing to express objections to the noise that would be created. They asked for additional conditions to be attached limiting the level of noise and the hours of operation for the pit mine.
Others who testified, including the city of Eudora, raised concerns about the impact the pit mine would have on the stability of the river bank and the potential for groundwater contamination in the event of another major flood on the river.
County commissioners are not bound by the recommendations of either planning commission, but those recommendations often carry considerable weight. Other options discussed by the planning commissions that county commissioners may consider include delaying action until further studies are completed on the potential impact or approving the permit subject to more conditions.