Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wind farm vs. Countryside view

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of a zoning ordinance in Wabaunsee County that prohibits commercial wind farms.

This is one of the first cases in which the pursuit of wind energy conflicted with desires for unobstructed views of the countryside.

The ordinance, approved by the Wabaunsee Board of County Commissioners, states that the wind farms with towers 120 feet in height or more “would be incompatible with the rural, agricultural, and scenic character of the county.”

Several landowners, who had entered into contracts for wind farm development, sued the county commissioners, saying the prohibition was unreasonable.

But the Kansas Supreme Court agreed with a lower court finding that the county commissioners’ zoning decision was lawful. The lower court said the board took into consideration the wind farms’ impact upon the aesthetics of the county and the wishes of residents.

The landowners also contended they entered into wind leases prior to the 2004 adoption of the ban and that the county cannot pass a law that interferes with the enforcement of a contract. But the court said land use is heavily regulated and that changes in the law may alter contractual obligations.

The state Supreme Court, however, left open several other issues for further arguments. Those include whether the zoning ordinance represents a “taking” of property rights without just compensation and whether it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. A second round of oral arguments is scheduled for January 27, 2010.

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