Douglas County Courthouse was a packed house Wednesday, June 15 for a public hearing on the possible corporation of the City of Clearfield. The petition was denied. Staff photo by Lynne Hermansen
Residents of unincorporated southwest Johnson County and southeast Douglas County met for a public hearing on the possible formation of the City of Clearfield.
Those that addressed the Douglas County commissioners Wednesday, June 15 in a three and a half hour public hearing were mostly from Douglas County and were opposed to losing their rural, farm lifestyle in Douglas County outside Eudora, Vinland and Baldwin City.
A common theme of opposition from residents were concerns for more taxes, not wanting to reside in a city, losing the rural character of their area, feeling it was just a frustrated vendetta against solar farms and not having been contacted by the original petitioner.
Commissioners also cited their concerns of the petitioner not having a concrete plan for how to provide city government services and services for the proposed 18-square-mile boundary proposed for the city.
Paul Anderson, vice chair for Polsinelli Law Firm, said it would be the 13th largest city in the state by land but the maximum density of residents would only be 23 residents per square mile.
“It’s about the solar project and disagreement about public policy,” he said. “Nothing about it is a city. They want to create a county within a county. They don’t represent the majority of people and they didn’t do their research on how a city works.”
Commissioners also cited the low density as a concern.
“It is evident to me that it is a very singular-focused intention with some ideological ideas that perhaps resonate with a number of other folks, but that does not account for the very necessary and specific tangible services, regulations, taxation, all of the things that have been commented on this evening that commissioners touched on in their questions with the petitioner at the beginning of this,” Shannon Reid, commissioner, said. “I think that overall there are a lot of unanswered questions about what a city would look like and how it would function if it were to be incorporated.”
Reid said the volume of opposition was overwhelming.
“I personally don’t believe I heard much evidence on how to make it possible,” she said.
Barack Matite, Eudora City Manager, said Clearfield’s proximity to Eudora would inhibit their ability to expand per their comprehensive plans.
“Eudora will be impacted,” he said. “Most growth occurring South of K-10 will be disrupted.”
Matite said the city would exercise its right to appeal if Clearfield was approved.
Carrie Brandon, petitioner, presented to commissioners the reasons her and the signees wanted to be incorporated and how they didn’t want to be a typical textbook city.
“We want to protect and preserve our quality of life because of the industrial growth allowed around us—other development transpiring and the intermodal, massive warehouses continue to expand,” she said.
Brandon said the Kansas Senate Apex Senate Bill allowed incentives for business competition with Oklahoma including a Panasonic Battery Manufacturing Plant south of DeSoto.
“Wouldn’t anyone be concerned,” she said. “Our area is agriculture. How are we supposed to make good investment decisions. The rug was pulled out from under us.”
Brandon said the formation of Clearfield would give them more opportunity, more say, more abilities and equal representation in government.
Douglas County had done a good job with county regulations, she said and they supported a lot of what the county had put in place and would base their government on the county and continue to use their services because they were already paying taxes for them.
Brandon said they wouldn’t have additional taxes because they wanted to retain their quality of life, their kids would remain in the school districts they are already enrolled in as Clearfield wouldn’t have one,and there wouldn’t be typical public works services because they already use Rural Water #4, rely on septic tanks and are supported by Fire District 1 and 2.
“We would be a third class city,” she said. “We are desiring to incorporate as a city to preserve and protect us as it currently is.”
Brandon said not everyone in the proposed area was supportive but they would have the ability to annex out and they apologized that they hadn’t been able to contact everyone as they had felt they had to act fast to protect themselves.
“We have rural roots, rural values and we want to hold on to those,” she said.
John Bullock, the county’s representative counsel, said once an inhabitant is in a city they can’t just leave a city.
Brandon said they wouldn’t have normal commercial and industrial businesses as other cities and would receive sales tax revenue from what they do best—Agritourism.
“We want to share with surrounding cities as our farms, open space, green space is the backyard of Douglas County,” she said. “We want to support other cities around us and drive traffic and commerce to sister cities.”
Brandon said they wouldn’t impede on Edgerton and Eudora’s growth.
“We don’t have a desire to expand,” she said.
Shannon Portillo, commissioner, said she failed to see how it wasn’t already articulated that they were a rural area.
Brandon said the county doesn’t protect citizens to the degree they would like.
“We would like more control to make sure our rural character is not sacrificed,” she said. “We didn’t want to come in guns ablazing. Maybe we should call ourselves a village.”
Brandon said they had come to realize their vulnerability.
“This situation brought people together with the values of what we hold dear out here,” she said. “The community is very tightly close now.”
Brandon said they also weren’t against solar energy but do not want to be surrounded by potential utility-scale solar energy farms from Florida-based energy firm NextEra.
NextEra has expressed interest in developing a 3,000 acre solar farm that would be located in Douglas and Johnson Counties.
Johnson County Commissioners had recently approved regulations for solar facilities but said no official application had been presented for consideration.
Patrick Kelly, commissioner, said Douglas County also hadn’t received any proposals from NextEra or other developers for consideration.
“There have been solar regulations that have passed, but we do not have an active solar project in front of us at this time,” he said. “Process is really important. We had a process, a thorough process, in developing those solar regulations that both sides in their discussion with the commission and with the planning commission shared was thorough-was extensive.”
Kelly said the process is there and sometimes can be disappointing and felt the Clearfield petition came out of frustration.
“It doesn’t mean we create a new city,” he said. “There are repercussions. It’s clear to me, and it is unfortunate we had to hire counsel. It would have been good for the petitioner to hire counsel.”
Kelly said he didn’t think the City of Clearfield was the way to go about stopping large scale solar utility farms.
“We will see the specifics of projects themselves and take each project as it comes,” he said.
Kelly said why didn’t they see petitions for new cities from those that disagree with government officials’ decisions every week.
“Why don’t we see these meetings every week,” he said. “Let’s create a city to do what I want to do.”
Brandon said it was a lot of work and not for the faint of heart.
“We want more of a voice,” she said. “When you’re a city you’re taken more seriously and there is more opportunity for funding on a federal level. I have no doubt we can do something remarkable if given the chance.”
Many rural Douglas County residents said they had just found out about the incorporation when they had received the county’s notice about Wednesday’s public meeting and were opposed to Clearfield.
“You’ve treated me like a faceless portion of a potential tax base and not like your living, breathing neighbor,” Dave Moore, a retired police officer, said. “If you treat me like this now how will you treat me when you citify me.”
Anthony Brown, resident on the northside of the proposed boundaries, said if he could opt out he wanted out now.
“If annexing out was allowed it creates a great deal of islands,” he said.
Mike Bennett, resident on 207th road, said he had been blindsided by the petition.
“It will take a lot of money to make this work,” he said. “It is reasonable to expect a normal transition to urbanization.”
Rebecca Potter, a retired teacher, said no one had contacted her or her neighbors either.
“Carrie had been too busy to contact everyone, but she had my name, property and valued assessment,” she said. “Nothing will change. Those services have to be provided by the city and I’m already pleased with the county. I can’t afford to pay extra unnecessary taxes for services I’m already receiving. Won’t it just add another layer of bureaucracy.”
Robert and Natalie Moorehead, county residents, said they were tired of a small group of people making decisions and not thinking about the entire population.
“What will be different,” they said. “It’s only going to hurt the area with additional taxes. We want this to end tonight.”
Everett Keener, retired Eudora resident, said he already felt a sense of community with Eudora, Vinland and and Baldwin and didn’t feel an affinity with Clearfield.
“It is a small group operating on the basis of fear,” he said. “I’m not hearing much but for fear and fear leads to anger and division. It’s definitely not the way to go about it. I’m already very satisfied with my stable, rural environment.”
Daryl Thompson, resident on 700th road, said he worried how emergency services would reach him if Clearfield didn’t have public works and what would happen without any law services.
“Where are the criminals going to go,” he said. “The place they can least be found with no services.”
Dorothy Barnett, executive director with Climate and Energy, said the world was already seeing the adverse impacts from climate change and needed to take climate action seriously.
“Clearfield is an effort for one purpose—taking away property rights and killing a project,” she said. “They admit to lying to get what they want.”
Other residents supported being incorporated into Clearfield to protect their land from industrial use.
Joyce Whittier, Shawnee resident, said they should do their independent research on NextEra.
“What kind of neighbor are they going to be,” she said. “Is this who you want to live next to. What is the best use of the land.”
Robert and Charmaine McCollum, Edgerton Road residents, said they were there to stand with their friends.
Charmaine McCollum said they wanted self-rule and more autonomy over their lives and had just found out about secretive meetings with NextEra a year ago.
“Self-governance is how the county was founded,” she said. “Citizens feel they are not heard. It is stacked against us. When do we have time to fight battles.”
Robert McCollum said they didn’t feel it was right when they had been sneaking around behind closed doors.
“They’re selling coal plants to China and we get Chinese solar panels. Why are we in such a rush to become Texas with brownouts and blackouts,” he said.
Larry Sterm, third generation farmer, said he felt now was the time for a new city.
“If we don’t stand up for ourselves now when is the time,” he said.
Barbara Kerr said she didn’t have an official identity with an Eudora mailbox, residing close to Wellsville, Google Maps saying she resides in Edgerton and being in the Baldwin City School District.
“These are the people that took me in,” she said. “I’m very sad the neighbors hadn’t heard but we were working as quickly as we could to protect ourselves. We are a community of shared interests—it is not about creating more taxes and more government regulations but our shared history and love of the land.”
Annette Siemen, Edgerton and Douglas County resident, said she didn’t know if a city was the best solution but felt like it was the only one.
“I would be surrounded on three sides of solar panels with buzzing and lights,” she said. “It’s taxation without representation. We are always outnumbered. We don’t want a modern city. We don’t want more rules and told what to do with our land. We want to build a rural city and did what we thought was right.”
Cindy Fitzgerald, Edgerton Road and Douglas County resident, said what is coming with solar is terrifying.
“NextEra is not a green company,” she said. “They are going to turn 6,000 acres into solar and are getting approved as a power company which means it gives them imminent domain.”
Shannon Portillo, commissioner, said she appreciated the public engagement and input.
“A city is designed to give resources to those in close proximity and I didn’t feel this was a well thought out, articulate plan,” she said. “What does it mean to live in Douglas County and retain rural life. It means living in unincorporated areas.”
Shannon Reid, commissioner, said what stuck out most to her was it was a large community encompassing many different communities and it was apparent the division was created by the process but they should appreciate they had met more of their neighbors.
“I heard a lot of common ground and a significant amount of common ground in daily life,” she said. “I heard how folks live the way they live on purpose and appreciate the rural lifestyle they have now.”