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Easement Resolution To Go Back To Planning And Zoning Commission

Apr 5, 2023 (0)

LuAnn Schindler, Publisher

Summerland Advocate Messenger 

A resolution regarding perpetual water and conservation easements will go back to the Holt County Planning and Zoning Commission. The directive was given by Holt County Supervisors, Friday, following a public hearing about the 2021 resolution.

The easement resolution was sent to planning and zoning for a public hearing, based on a recommendation from county attorney Brent Kelly, who was not in attendance at Friday's public hearing. 

During the supervisors' March 31 hearing, interim planning and zoning administrator Gene Kelly told supervisors the commission approved adding the resolution to the county's zoning plan on a 4-2 vote, following a Feb. 27 public hearing. At that hearing, planning and zoning members did not vote to add the resolution to the county's comprehensive plan.

“We were under the assumption it was already part of the comprehensive plan,” Gene Kelly said. 

In reality, planning and zoning members should have also made a recommendation to include the resolution in the comprehensive plan.

Planning and zoning member Rod Heiss asked if the supervisors' 2021 resolution has any teeth when it comes to regulating easements.

“Paragraph one is the only place it says, ‘The board opposes a designation of property,'” he said. “A resolution, to me, has never been a regulation.”

“It's an opinion,” supervisor's chairman Bill Tielke added. 

“So is this being carried in as an opinion or a regulation?” Heiss asked. “If it lands in zoning, is zoning ever going to have to say no? ... When I heard this was already adopted into the comprehensive plan, that's why I voted no. Why mess with this going into the zoning?”

Discussion ensued on steps to be followed if a landowner approaches supervisors for consideration of a water or conservation easement in the future. The current process, which includes filling out an application, filing a real estate transfer statement, and holding a public hearing with the local governing body, will remain in place.

Supervisors denied approval of a water conservation easement and a perpetual conservation easement in 2021.

Approximately 11 individuals attended the Feb. 27 planning and zoning public hearing and asked questions about the structure of easements, how it may affect taxes and whether it infringes on landowners' property rights.

“The whole thing is confusing,” chairman Bill Tielke said.

Previously, local officials were told by state officers that easements may affect the tax base. Now, taxes cannot be a reason to approve or deny an easement, according to Tielke.

For supervisors and even some members of the planning and zoning commission, it comes down to the definition of ‘perpetuity.'

Tielke said landowners should have a right to do what they want with their land. 

“I went down when they testified in Lincoln. Every other type of these easements have a year or 30 year or 50 year agreement,” Tielke said. He noted that the original intent of conservation easements was to protect farmers from urban sprawl. 

“That makes a lot of sense that they're trying to protect their livelihood,” Tielke said. “That makes a lot of sense and I understand the reasons why.”

Conservation easements are voluntary and do not change usage of property or have an effect on the tax structure. Landowners retain rights to the land. It differs from a wetland easement which, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, helps “private and tribal landowners protect, restore and enhance wetlands which have been previously degraded due to agriculture uses.”

Gene Kelly said planning and zoning will discuss setting a public hearing date when the commission meets April 10.


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