By Julie Ann Madden
Some landowners want to take the final step in getting their land back to what it was before Hyperion Refining LLC purchased options to buy it — especially in light of the fact that Hyperion no longer holds any options.
Hyperion officials had rezoned approximately 3,292 acres of Union County agricultural land to Planned Development zoning, which is mostly heavy industrial zoning for their proposed oil refinery and power plant.
On Nov. 12, attorney John Slattery asked the Union County Commissioners what it would cost to revert the zoning.
In the county’s zoning ordinance, unanimously approved by the same five commissioners in 2008, it states if a refinery was not built, the land will automatically revert back to agricultural zoning. However, county officials have admitted that this “reversion clause” is illegal and was put in the ordinance to appease residents opposing the Hyperion Energy Center.
Since it’s illegal, it means the county’s whole rezoning process must be done to get the land back to agricultural zoning.
Slattery told the commission he feels the landowners, which include his wife and Benny Quam, should be able to file one petition for a zoning amendment and pay one $500 fee — just as Hyperion officials did.
However, Union County Planning Director Dennis Henze told commissioners Hyperion officials were a corporation; therefore, they only had to pay one fee. The Schedule of Fees the commission adopted says “a zoning amendment to change the zoning of a parcel of land is a $500 fee” and “our zoning ordinance in the change of zoning says ‘any person, firm or corporation desires to change the zoning map of any property from one zoning district class to another shall make application to me.”
“These are individual landowners that own these various parcels,” said Henze. “My interpretation is that each one of these landowners would have to complete an application along with the $500 fee.”
In response, Slattery stated the zoning ordinance says to look at the fee schedule and the “fee schedule doesn’t say ‘per parcel’ — it says zoning amendment $500. There isn’t any ‘per parcel’ language in it.”
Noting there are at least 20 individual landowners, Slattery explained that would cost $10,000 and possibly upwards of $30,000 or so by the time all involved parties, including shareholders, pay individual $500 rezoning fees.
“Obviously if it’s $10,000 that’s very different from $500,” he said. “It depends on how you look at your ordinance.”
“($10,000 or more) makes it really cost prohibitive,” said Slattery. “(Changing the zoning back) probably would not be as contentious as the first public hearing I wouldn’t think — probably a little less time.”
The public hearing to change this land to Planned Development zoning had lasted six hours.
“I don’t know how many landowners would pony up the $500 to do it,” said Slattery, noting he is asking questions of commissioners first before contacting all of the landowners to see if they are interested in having their land rezoned to agriculture zoning.
“If you (commissioners) object to it or don’t think we ought to do it — if you have some constitutional reason or some reason you’re opposed to this — or you still think Hyperion is coming, I’d appreciate any comments you have along this line,” said Slattery, noting he had contacted Hyperion officials. “The only response we got is we can’t stop you. I didn’t expect a rousing support. On the other hand, I don’t think they’re opposed to it. It certainly doesn’t sound like it.”
“My thought is it’s probably in the best interest of the county because it really is ag land,” said Slattery, “and it should be zoned accordingly.
“If Hyperion paid $500, why would we now have to pay per individual?” asked Slattery. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t see per petitioner,” he said. “I just see per petition: One petition they’ll all sign. One meeting. One public hearing. One order (by commissioners) and one (zoning) change.”
When Commission Chairperson Doyle Karpen asked if the four commissioners present were ready to make a decision, Commissioner Ross Jordan answered, “No I need to get legal advice. I’d also like a representative of (the commission) to contact Hyperion and get something from them.”
“I’m not discrediting what you’re saying,” added Jordan to Slattery. “It’s just so we hear it ourselves.”
Commissioner Milton Ustad asked what if landowners didn’t want to change their zoning, and Slattery responded, “I won’t go ahead with anybody unless they sign the petition.”
After saying it would take two weeks to get Slattery an answer, Karpen instructed States Attorney Jerry Miller, Henze and Slattery to “communicate” and bring back a recommendation to the commission.
Karpen told Commission Secretary Carol Klumper to put Slattery on the Nov. 26 meeting agenda.