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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

County officials seek input from cities on growth areas

MOUND CITY – Mayors and other representatives from several Linn County cities met on Monday, Dec. 19, to give updates on their cities and to discuss proposals broached by county officials. Linn County Commissioner Danny McCullough and Jason Hightower, commissioner-elect from District No. 1 represented the commission.

One of the topics brought up by Darin Wilson, county zoning administrator, was what he called buffer zones for cities. Under Kansas statute a city may work with the county to establish an extraterritorial jurisdiction over its growth area - an area that can extend up to three miles beyond city limits.

If the city meets the criteria laid out in the statute, it can make decisions about zoning, subdividing, flood plain administration, and building code authority inside that growth area.

The law recognizes that cities have a special interest in how those areas develop.

Wilson used the example of a someone wanting to place a salvage yard just outside of city limits. That would, of course, impact its neighbors inside city limits, and the law was created to give a city better control of the area where it could eventually expand.

Growth areas were discussed by several cities more than 25 year ago, however, only Pleasanton went through the procedure to establish a growth area in 1997. The Linn County Commission signed off on the plan. However, for a reason no one has been able to explain, county officials did not follow through with the final step and register the document.

Officials from Pleasanton did not pursue it, and the matter was apparently forgotten until late in 2021 when a Fort Scott-based auto wrecking service sought to establish a storage area on Tucker Street south of the intersection with Sixth Street and just outside of city limits.

Wilson said that as the county’s planning and zoning commission works on rewriting the county’s zoning regulations, it is important for cities in the county to consider whether establishing that growth area is important.

“With a buffer zone there’s a lot of different options that can be taken,” Wilson said. “The city takes control of that, as far as zoning and subdivision regulations, or it can be handled by the county, or it can be shared with the county and the city.

“Normally, when it’s shared they put together a planning board with people from the county and people from the city to work on just that area.”

Wilson said he wanted to go to visit with officials from each city to see how each city’s plan for growth meshed with the county’s comprehensive plan. He acknowledged that some cities might not be interested in going through the procedure to establish a growth area.

“It doesn’t have to be three miles; it can be up to three miles,” he said.

He noted that Pleasanton was looking at expanding city limits in the area around U.S. Highway 69 and Sixth Street and suggested that establishing a growth area might be an alternative to annexation.

For right now, the main focus is to get information from the cities and get a sense of their interest in establishing a growth area. He said county subdivision and zoning regulations are expected to be completed as early as April and he hoped to learn of the interest of city officials before then.

He suggested that after meeting with officials from each city individually, they could bring all of the cities interested in following through to work through the process together.

Shaun West, county public works administrator, said it was important that those cities work with the county to determine, for example, whether the city or county would be responsible for roads in the growth area.

“It’s pretty important that we all get on the same page and at least, if not completely agree, understand what we’re doing because it’s going to affect us for years in the future,” West said.

“Is this going to be a land purchase or a hostile land grab?” asked Donnie Rhynerson, a councilman from Blue Mound.

Wilson said it wasn’t a land grab. Using the example of the salvage yard, he said it would prevent the county from issuing a conditional-use permit for such an operation in an area that was unwanted by city planners.

“That way we can make a map now and we know what’s going on in the area,” he said.

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