The public will have a chance to weigh in on a proposed ban of commercial wind turbines in the area surrounding Parsons during an Oct. 15 public hearing.

The Parsons Planning Commission voted 5-1 in a special meeting Thursday evening to recommend the city commission approve an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would limit the height of wind turbines to 200 feet, including blade length, in the extraterritorial area. The planners didn’t want an outright ban of all turbines because some residents outside the city may want to install their own residential units, which are much smaller than those for commercial use.

The public hearing is a necessary step before the recommendation reaches the city commission.

“Let’s get something on the books and see where the public is on it,” planner Greg Chalker said.

The planners began discussing the possible regulation of wind energy conversion systems in the extraterritorial area commonly called the 3-mile zone around the city on Tuesday at the request of City Commissioner Tom Shaw.

Shaw is concerned that a company could begin development of a wind farm in Labette County and encroach on the city with 600-foot turbines. Apex Wind Energy is working on a project to place 139 such turbines in southwest Neosho County. The city enforces its zoning and building code ordinances within the area surrounding Parsons, roughly a 3-mile radius extending from the city limits except in Neosho County and the Great Plains Industrial Park. Labette County has no other zoning in unincorporated areas.

Chalker and Ron Holsteen worked on the recommendation after the larger group more or less decided that a ban on wind farms was preferred during an Aug. 21 meeting.

On Thursday Chalker said the people he spoke to about turbines in the 3-mile zone were either strongly opposed to them or didn’t care.

Holsteen said after viewing a map with all of the houses in the area, there was no question that a wind farm in the 3-mile zone was not feasible.

“There’s just really no place to locate them with the proximity of the homes no matter what footage you use for setbacks,” Holsteen said.

Planner Richard Babcock said he is the largest land owner in the 3-mile zone and wouldn’t lease any land for turbines because of his concerns with their effect on wildlife. He said he’s hunted land that formerly was great for hunting that no longer was after a wind farm was installed. Babcock said he doubts that duck or deer hunting around Parsons Lake will be much good after Apex’s wind farm is built near there.

“I think this is a positive step on our part just to prevent a lot of issues coming up in the future that we probably don’t want to deal with,” Holsteen said.

Holsteen said the ban probably won’t matter much anyway because wind energy companies likely don’t want to build so close to a city.

Planner Lowell Wells cast the lone vote against the ban, although he said he neither favored nor opposed wind farm development outside the city.

“I’m mixed. The whole ban seems like overkill,” he said.

Wells said he’s not fond of burning coal or natural gas for energy.

“And I certainly don’t want another nuclear power plant anywhere in the state,” he said.

Wells pointed out the hypocrisy of the planning commission’s decision to allow a tall communications tower to be built, but Chalker said that was just one tower compared to the potential of several wind turbines with movable parts that create noise and danger to birds.

“That’s a huge difference,” Holsteen said.

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