December 3, 2018The Journal Record |
OKLAHOMA CITY – When lawmakers come back into legislative session, they’ll likely have another local control issue on their hands.
Local control is a common phrase in any legislature. When it comes to jurisdiction, particularly over hot-button issues, there tend to be a few different entities that can be in charge.
Lawmakers will have the opportunity to decide which entities get a say in zoning regulations in unincorporated areas: geographic spaces within counties that don’t belong to any cities.
These sections of the state tend to be rural and home to residential, agricultural and industrial development.
In Oklahoma, cities get to dictate what kinds of development are allowed on parcels of land. For example, neighborhoods are zoned residential, and without special permission, nothing else can go there. City councils, planning commissions and trained city planners work together to build those zoning frameworks and enforce them.
That isn’t the case for counties. Most of the state’s counties don’t have planners trained to determine the best way to develop land over long periods of time. Those that do have opted in.
State Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, has filed a bill that would give counties more authority over land use. Senate Bill 10 allows county commissioners to create boards of adjustment with a resolution. Those boards of adjustment could then adopt zoning regulations, building codes, construction codes and housing codes for unincorporated areas. It would require those county officials to hold public hearings on the regulations.
Under current law, counties don’t have much recourse when they want to control development in their jurisdiction.
“They have to go through different state agencies,” Thompson said. ‘This will give the county the opportunity for local control over their counties.”
For example, he said, Okmulgee County came to him asking for this bill because of concerns officials raised about development along U.S. Highway 75. The north-south roadway runs from Dallas to the Canadian border, and it connects Okmulgee to Tulsa. That metro is growing, Thompson said, and that highway is becoming a popular corridor for travelers.
“As Tulsa is moving south along Highway 75, we want to make sure it’s not filled up with junkyards,” he said.
Thompson said the law would not be intended to limit agricultural production or stymie economic development.
Jack Morgan is the program manager for community and economic development at the National Association of Counties. He said there is no uniformity across the country in how much power counties have over zoning. State governments often dictate how much power local municipalities have, and many don’t give that power to them.
“Your neighbors in Texas, for example, do not grant counties zoning authority,” he said via email.
Counties’ regulatory power over oil and gas development has been a major issue over the past year, as high-profile cases of close-quarters sites and attempts to curtail temporary pipelines have garnered state attention.
During the legislative session earlier this year, state Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, filed a bill that would allow municipalities to enact some mitigation requirements, namely for light, noise and air pollution. Oil and gas activity has boomed in his district, and he said although residents do enjoy the development’s positive impact on the local economy, his neighborhood has started to feel like an industrial park. That bill failed.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court recently sided with an oil and gas industry group in a lawsuit it filed against Kingfisher County officials. The dispute started in August, when officials in Kingfisher County wanted to ban some types of temporary pipelines industry leaders said are needed to make drilling economically feasible. They argued the lines, which often carry a drilling byproduct called produced water, risk pollution if there is a malfunction. The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association sued the county commissioners, asking the court to determine whether the ban was illegal. The court sided with the OKOGA, agreeing state law gives exclusive power to state regulators at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.