The Ellis County Commission at Monday’s meeting had a spontaneous discussion about hindrances facing housing and commercial development in unincorporated areas.
This follows last week’s Hays City Commission meeting, during which commissioners discussed possible obstacles that could be deterring development and suggested possible solutions.
At both meetings, a pending lawsuit involving the Ellis County Commission was identified as a likely problem. County commissioners Dean Haselhorst and Barbara Wasinger expressed frustration with the situation Monday evening.
“I guess whether we win this lawsuit or not, my opinion is we’re losing regardless,” Haselhorst said.
The lawsuit was filed in district court late last year over the county’s rejection of a proposed residential development just south of Hays, within the City of Hays’ 3-mile jurisdiction. The vote came down to a 1-1 tie, with Haselhorst in favor, Marcy McClelland against and Wasinger recusing herself.
McClelland had expressed concern about possible septic tank contamination of groundwater supply. Developer Mary Alice Unrein, in her petition, alleges the county’s decision was “unreasonable,” as she had complied with all pertinent city and county regulations. The lawsuit also was filed against McClelland personally.
Haselhorst said he has taken several phone calls from area realtors and developers concerned with the situation. He also said two prospective developers have called him personally and expressed an interest in coming to Ellis County, but said high land costs and the pending lawsuit are a cause for concern.
“He said, ‘It’s hard for me to come to your county when there’s a lawsuit going on. It looks to me like you’re wanting to stifle growth in your own county,’ ” Haselhorst said. “ ‘What I know about western Kansas is they’re all hungry. … Colby’s growing to the west of you, but you guys are sitting there.’ And he said, ‘I just want you to be aware of that.’ ”
One developer told Haselhorst other counties and cities are willing to go as far as giving land away free in efforts to attract development.
Haselhort also said residents have told him it's “unfair” that taxpayer money now could be used to fight the county’s legal battle over the Blue Sky Acres development. The county has an insurance policy that pays legal fees up to a certain amount, and that limit has not been reached — meaning the county has not yet had to pay additional money. County Administrator Phillip Smith-Hanes said approximately $7,000 remains before the county hits its cap.
Wasinger had sharp words for McClelland, who remained silent throughout the discussion. She said McClelland’s reasons for opposition were vague and asked how the county can address her concerns to move forward.
“The decision to vote against the development in Ellis County was made by one of our commissioners and no reason was given. There’s no option available, whether it’s bigger lots, or what it is that is being asked for,” Wasinger said. “And I want to point out that there’s not a person in the county outside of the city limits who could live out there if they didn’t have a septic system. So if that’s the problem, where are we supposed to go from there?
“The reason the county’s not doing anything can be directly related to a problem with one of the commissioners who refuses to give more direction and refuses to make logical decisions in this matter.”
In other business, the commission:
• Hired Ben Moore Studio in Manhattan to provide design services for renovations to the county’s 601 Main building, which houses Extension services, and the future health clinic at 2507 Canterbury.
• Heard an update on Extension activities.
• Held a 10-minute executive session to discuss union negotiations. No action was taken.