Public hearings for comprehensive plan held

Two public hearings — one in Seneca and one in Sabetha — were held last week for the public to make comments on a draft comprehensive plan for Nemaha County. The Nemaha County Planning Commission has been working on creating the plan since July 2020.

The second public hearing was held at noon on Thursday, July 20, at Sabetha City Hall. Present for the hearing were the Nemaha County Planning Commission board, Dick Horton with Dick Horton Consulting, Nancy Gafford and nine members of the public.

To begin the public hearing, Horton presented the results from the Nemaha County survey, which was sent out last fall. Following his presentation. Two members of the public— Laurie Schmelzle and Eddie Aldrine — addressed the board during the public comment portion of the hearing. Each speaker was allotted two minutes to speak.

Schmelzle was the first speaker. She said, “The most important data from the Nemaha County survey to me is the pie chart that is missing.”

“What on earth happened to the results of the Nemaha County survey?” Schmelzle said. “They were available in January. In March, a group of citizens went to the county commissioners and asked them where are the results from the survey. Dylan Keim said, ‘They are on our website.’ So, there was a lot of discussion. Afterwards, several of those members looked on the website. There was nothing but the ETC [ETC Institute of Olathe] Interpretation of the results. So, in late March, I filed a KORA [Kansas Open Records Act] request with Nemaha County… Several emails went back and forth, and it was denied over and over again for various different reasons. The last denial was from Brad Lippert — our County Attorney — quoting me half a statute. The second half of the statute that was missing said, ‘unless these documents have been discussed in a public meeting,’ which they had several times.

“So, I got a hold of my attorney in Topeka and I said, ‘I need help with a KORA request.’ I don’t know what transpired precisely in the next two days, but three days later, I had a full copy of the results of the Nemaha County survey in my inbox. How is this for transparency? Our commission is supposed to act with transparency and unbiased.

“The most important thing that I think came from this survey was how many people from the community voted or wrote in that they did not want zoning, which was a question this commission [planning commission] and our commission [Nemaha County commission] would not allow on the survey. We’ve got between 84 and 90 percent of respondents — 224 — that don’t want zoning. So, my two minutes are up. I have more to say, but that is the most important part of it. This is my interpretation of the comments, so I would encourage everyone to do their own.”

Nemaha County Emergency Management Director Aldrine spoke to the Planning Commission about the housing “issue” in Nemaha County.

“I can’t stress it enough that housing is a huge issue here in Nemaha County,” Aldrine said. “I’m a department head. I don’t have a wife or anything, and I can’t afford a house in the county. There is no economical options. I moved here from Kansas City thinking that Seneca or Sabetha or anywhere in the county would have a well worth cost of living and I would be able to fall into a house in no time. I have lived here a year and I am still living in an apartment because I can’t find a house that I can afford.

“Putting my Emergency Management hat on, if we have a large scale disaster and people are needing homes, there are zero options for people to look for afterwards. If we have a tornado, I know we are a family eccentric county, but after a while people aren’t going to be wanting to live with their families, due to having no homes available.

“A few months ago, I was looking on Zillow for a house. I compared Nemaha County to Brown County and Marshall County. I felt they were comparable counties as far as population goes. Nemaha County — the figures are probably different today — but that day there were six houses for sale in all of Nemaha County on Zillow. Marshall County had over 30 and Brown County had somewhere between 15-20, I believe. If you guys are wanting to bring people to the county from outside the county — like I am, I have roots here in Nemaha County, with my mom being from Seneca — but if you’re wanting to bring people in, that is a big issue that hopefully you guys can work on.”

Following the public comment section of the meeting, the public hearing was closed.

Then, the Nemaha County Planning Commission held their next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, July 24, at the Pioneer Building in Seneca. At the meeting and following discussion, the comprehensive plan was approved unanimously. The Planning Commission will now submit the comprehensive plan to the Nemaha County Commissioners.

The entire comprehensive plan can be found at https://irp.cdn-website.com/c09fd812/files/uploaded/2023CompPlan2.pdf.

Heather Stewart98 Posts

Heather Stewart is one of two co-editors for The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2015. Heather is a 2011 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in psychology. She lives in Sabetha with her husband.

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