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By Traci Chapman
There will be no Canadian County planning and zoning commission – for now.
While District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson pushed for – and made a motion to – institute a “metropolitan” planning and zoning commission, his fellow commissioners, David Anderson and Jack Stewart, disagreed with the move. Carson’s motion died for lack of a second.
If the motion had passed, it would have instituted a planning and zoning commission he said was allowed under state statutes. Under Title 19, Section 866, the county would be able to partner with cities to implement a commission that would only encompass a three-mile area surrounding that municipality. Unlike the original proposal which would have allowed a vote by county residents concerning the formation of a county planning commission, Carson’s motion involved a body which would be solely approved by commissioners.
“There is an item on here today that would give commissioners the ability to zone your property through executive order,” resident Maurice Woods said.
Carson’s proposal was not the original issue first considered by commissioners at their Dec. 17 meeting. At that time, residents appeared to discuss their thoughts on a possible plan that would have involved a countywide vote on a commission, which would have overseen only unincorporated areas of Canadian County.
The statutes pertaining to both proposals gave Anderson and Stewart concerns, they said. Both commissioners said they believed there were “problems” with state statutes concerning formation of a county planning commission, with Anderson saying he believed it would be beneficial to obtain an attorney general’s opinion about some aspects of the proposed commission.
“I believe in protecting property rights,” Anderson said. “I believe that planning and zoning is a municipal function – all cities have planning and zoning.
“This is a big step that I’m not prepared to make at this time,” he said.
“I realize that half the people in this room are going to like the decision we make today and half are not going to like it,” Anderson said. “We’ve struggled with this and want the best for the county – I hope people appreciate how we’ve struggled with this decision.”
Both Stewart and Anderson said they were concerned about residents from the county’s cities having a disproportionate voice concerning a commission that would not directly impact them. They cited percentages they said were relevant – the fact 93 percent of the county’s residents lived within municipalities, while only 7 percent were located in unincorporated areas.
This discrepancy was illustrated in who could possibly make up a planning commission, Stewart said.
“If a board were put together it would consist of three members to be appointed by commissioners, one commissioner, every city with population of more than 1,000 the mayor would appoint a representative,” he said. “Calumet would not be represented and it represents a large part of the area that would be subject to this.
“I’m not certain about Okarche,” Stewart said. “It would be possible no one from unincorporated would even be on the commission.”
“I do think Canadian County does need an overall strategic plan,” he said. “Personally, I think the best course of action at this time is to work with Apex and with the city of Piedmont – see if we can’t get everyone on board with this.”
The issue was a divisive one that brought standing room only crowds to two commissioners meetings and a public hearing. On one side was a group of residents – many from the Piedmont area – who opposed wind turbines being constructed by Virginia-based Apex Wind Energy.
On the other side was a growing group of residents and attorneys who opposed what they called the county’s suggestion to add another layer of government and oversight to rural, unincorporated areas of the county. Among those was attorney Mark Henricksen, who said he believed commissioners were treading onto dangerous ground if they set a course toward a countywide planning commission.
According to state statutes, counties that have a city with a population in excess of 200,000 cannot have a “metropolitan” planning commission. With parts of Oklahoma City located within Canadian County – commissioners estimated about 40,000 Oklahoma City residents lived within the county – Henricksen said that option was not available to commissioners.
“In my humble opinion, you do not have the authority to do that particular thing without an amendment from the Legislature,” he told commissioners Monday.
Stewart said he believed the best way to proceed was to work with Apex and the city of Piedmont. Apex recently provided an agreement officials said addressed many of the concerns expressed by wind energy opponents. Commissioners would be reviewing the document in the coming days, they said.
While Anderson and Stewart said they wanted to head in that direction, Carson disagreed.
“We don’t have time to kick this around and kick this around,” he said, citing pressure from constituents in his district. “I’m going to put it back on agenda next week – I’ll trade you all commissioners’ districts.”