Pottawatomie County commissioners capped a busy day Monday with decisions on two of three conditional use permits in front of them.
During their regular morning session in Westmoreland, the commission approved a pair of conditional use permits for rural properties north of Rock Creek High School wanting to host events, such as weddings and other gatherings. The request for the Ferkol property on Myers Valley Road for a proposed event space and accompanying children’s play area passed 2 to 1 with five conditions spelled out. The space is planned to start development within the next few years.
Much of the morning’s discussion centered on the condition to limit noise levels to 75 decibels, specifically whether to include a time limit in the permit for any sound that exceeds the volume limit. Commissioner Greg Riat argued such a provision would make the condition hard to enforce.
“Because in essence, they could play a song, break for five seconds, play the next song. That’s not continuous. They could do that all night long, exceed 75 decibels and they’re not in trouble,” he said.
Riat was joined in supporting the amended C-U-P by Commission Chair Pat Weixelman, though the item was opposed by Commissioner Dee McKee. She failed in a motion to approve the conditions with language that stipulated noise violations would be considered in cases of sustained, amplified sound louder than 75 decibels and lasting over 10 minutes – not spontaneous bouts of noise.
“I guess I’ve seen enough things where it would get loud and go back down and wouldn’t sustain that loud for that long. I have a problem having no time limit. That just doesn’t face reality sometimes,” she said.
Other commissioners expressed confidence that discretion by staff in enforcement of the noise limit will ensure the condition isn’t abused.
The Swoyer property on Loux Road was unanimously approved with 7 conditions for a planned vineyard-adjacent event venue. A valid protest permit had been submitted in regard to the C-U-P, which required a unanimous vote by the board to be approved.
Significant consideration was given to a condition requiring a fence be built to prevent event-goers from wandering onto adjacent properties. Commissioner Riat recommended adding a size requirement into the condition for the fence.
“A fence can be three inches tall. I would probably rewrite that an applicant shall construct a fence in such a manner that it keeps people in or around the event,” he said.
Commissioners further amended the condition to allow the fence to fall behind the vineyards rather than between them and the event space. County Planner Stephan Metzger drew up the language at the meeting and raised it for consideration.
“Your point’s a good one. It works for the Swoyers, but when the next person comes in we’ve got to make sure it works for them as well. The applicant shall submit a site plan showing a fence that is reasonably designed to limit the extent of the events to the area in proximity to the event building,” he said.
Later in the day, commissioners made some progress toward coming to a decision on a proposed rock quarry C-U-P application by Topeka-based Mid-States Materials, which is eyeing a site near Wheaton.
Commissioners talked through some of the challenges that likely would occur, if the county ultimately decided to move forward on approval. Dust mitigation enforcement and safety were among the most important concerns brought up. Commissioner Riat says the county needs a third-party inspector to enforce conditions put forth by the county, whatever that may end up being.
We have to hire somebody. If we’re going to do this and have regulations, it would be like having a speed limit with no cops. We’re going to do all this work and if it’s approved and we have regulations without somebody who is trained to inspect, it’s all for nothing,” he said.
Dust mitigation is among the key topics commissioners have focused in on and say enforcement is an important piece of the equation. Commissioner Weixelman suggested how often that might potentially happen.
“I would say once or twice a month, I mean just like this time of year. I’m not talking about going in and white gloving the whole operation but going down the road and seeing if the dust is swirling and if dust flowing and blowing then go in and tell them to get their water truck out because it’s dangerous circumstances,” he said.
Mid-States Materials representative Rich Eckert told commissioners they are fine with being heavily regulated by Pottawatomie County, since they already have a number of strict state and federal regulations to adhere to. Eckert says they’ve received state recognition for their attention to safety and plan to continue that with this proposed site.
The quarry application has been recommended for denial by the planning commission. That decision came earlier this year by a 4 to 3 vote. A number of neighboring property owners don’t want the quarry approved, citing the native grassland and prairies should instead be preserved. Commissioner McKee thanked the public for its patience on the matter.
“We appreciate the input people have given to us and we’ve tried to very much consider it and I think that’s helped us see some of the things we see and react to them… and we’re not putting it off because we don’t want you to get the answer tonight but because we really are trying to get to that point where we professionally and directly handle these issues,” she said.
Commissioners had wanted to pick the discussion in two weeks, but will have to wait an additional week due to Independence Day. They will continue the discussion July 11, with another evening meeting planned at 6:30 p.m. in the Sunflower Room, located in the basement of the Public Works Building in Westmoreland.
KMAN’s Nick McNamara contributed to coverage of Monday morning’s discussions. Brandon Peoples contributed to coverage from Monday evening’s discussion.