Sumner County Commission Proposes to Make Itself the Final Authority
on Whether to Issue Conditional Use Permit,
Regardless of the Sumner County Planning Commission's Decision.
SUMNER COUNTY, KS - This week the Sumner County Commission has made public its proposal to change the County's Regulations to give the three Commissioners the sole authority to decide whether to grant a conditional use permit. On March 7, 2018, they published a notice in the official county newspaper, The Wellington Daily News, of their proposal. A copy of the notice may be found here http://cdn.gatehousemedia.com/custom-systems/ghns/files/wellington_legals_030718-5a9f0c330c77f.pdf
Jerry Hawkins is the attorney for a group of landowners who filed an action to appeal the County's decision approving a conditional use application by Invenergy, a developer which wanted to build a controversial commercial wind farm in northern Sumner County.
"People may not think about the importance of zoning until it affects them," Mr. Hawkins says. Conditional use permits are not just for wind farms, they are required for things like wrecking, salvage or junk yards, recycling centers, airports, land used for raising and care of dangerous animals, feed manufacturers, livestock sale barns, fertilizer plants, electrical substations, cemeteries, nursing homes, and radio towers, to name a few. If a property owner near you wants to build something next to your property and they need a conditional use permit to do it, they file an application with the County. Under the current Sumner County Regulations, an application for a permit then has to be reviewed and approved by both the Planning Commission and the County Commission. The Planning Commission is a group of nine people appointed by the County Commission whose specific role is to consider changes in zoning and conditional use permits. Mr. Hawkins says that a neighbor wanting to keep the permitted uses around his home the same has two layers of protection under the current Sumner County Regulation because a change from the status quo has to be approved by both bodies.
The Sumner County Commission is proposing to change the Regulations so that a majority of the three Commissioners can approve a conditional use permit regardless of what the nine members of the Planning Commission recommend.
"That's exactly what happened to all of the landowners I represent in northern Sumner County," Hawkins said. Invenergy, a wind developer, wanted to build a 60-65 turbine commercial wind farm next to or around these landowners' properties. "These landowners had serious concerns about how these large commercial wind towers were going to affect their property values, and their use and enjoyment of their land." "Once a wind farm is built close to or around your home, what do you think happens to the marketability of your home and the equity you have accumulated?" The wind developer was offering a $500,000 donation to the County, in lieu of paying property taxes, if its conditional use permit was approved. After hearing from Invenergy and some of the residents, at a hearing in December, 2017 only three of the nine members of the Planning Commission supported Invenergy's proposal, with one member abstaining. Later that month, County Commissioners Cliff Bales and Jim Newell voted to allow the wind farm. Commissioner Steve Warner, who represents the district where the proposed wind farm was to be built, voted against it. Hawkins says, "We objected to the Commission, saying you cannot approve the permit under your regulations, you need the approval of the Planning Commission." The County disagreed.
"After the Commissioner's decision, we took the case to court where the judge's role involves reviewing the legality of the decision," Hawkins explains. Late last year, the judge sided with the landowners. In his decision, Sumner County District Court Judge Mott wrote, "The County regulations clearly require a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission and the approval of the Governing Body before a Conditional Use Permit is issued. To rule otherwise overlooks the plain meaning of the words expressed in the regulations and the County's rule of interpretation expressed therein." This week the County Commission filed a notice that it will appeal the decision, and in the meantime, has proposed to change the Regulations.
The Sumner County Planning Commission will consider the County Commission's proposal at a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. on March 28, 2018, at the Raymond Frye Complex in Wellington. "We intend to make it very clear we oppose this change," Hawkins says. "If a wind farm, junk yard, cemetery, or anything else requiring a conditional use permit is proposed, there should be more protection. The Sumner County Regulations as written mean the Planning Commission is part of the checks and balances of local government, and their recommendation matters. We feel it should stay that way."
If you would like more information about this topic, please call Jerry Hawkins at 316-265-7741, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
HFH named a 2018 Best Law Firm
Hite, Fanning & Honeyman L.L.P. has been named a 2018 "Best Law Firm" in the practice areas of Commercial Litigation, Employment Law, Insurance Law, Banking and Finance Litigation, Medical Malpractice (defendants), defense of Personal Injury Litigation (defendants), and Workers' Compensation Law (employers). This recognition is given by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers, based on lawyer and client evaluations, and peer reviews from leading lawyers in the field.
Court Strikes County Commission Decision Regarding a Controversial Proposed Wind Farm in Northern Sumner County
On Thursday, September 21, a Sumner County judge issued a decision in a zoning appeal case which blocks construction of a 14,000 acre wind farm in northern Sumner County between the towns of Clearwater, Wellington, Belle Plaine and Conway Springs. The proposed wind farm would have consisted of 60 to 65 commercial wind turbines. Previously, on December 7, 2016, the Sumner County Planning Commission, following a public hearing, voted five to three recommending against the proposed wind farm. On December 27, 2016, the Sumner County Commission, in a two to one decision, voted in favor of the proposed wind farm.
The attorney for the group of landowners, Jerry Hawkins, says that Kansas law allows appeals challenging the legality of city or county zoning decisions. "Contrary to what the public might think, the judge in the case didn't get into the business of sorting out benefits and burdens of wind farms, what effect they have on the property values of those who live next to them, or whether a wind farm is good fit for this location," Mr. Hawkins explains. "Instead, the judge decided whether the procedures and regulations were followed." Mr. Hawkins adds, "Obviously, regardless of what we might think about wind farms, we want to make sure the rules are followed. That's what Kansas law says the judge is supposed to do."
According to the judge's written decision, Article VII of the Sumner County Regulations states that a wind farm "may be allowed by conditional use permit when submitted, reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission and Governing Body and subject to conditions as the Planning Commission and Governing Body may impose." The residents argued this regulation means what it says: both the Planning Commission and the County Commission must vote in favor of the proposed wind farm for the permit to be issued. Pointing to other County regulations, the County had argued that the Planning Commission was only a recommending body, and the decision was ultimately up to the County Commission. On this point the judge agreed with the landowners: "The County Regulations clearly require a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission and approval of the Governing Body before a Conditional Use Permit is issued. To rule otherwise overlooks the plain meaning of the words expressed in the regulations. . ." The judge's order concludes that "because the Planning Commission recommended against the Conditional Use Proposal, the County Commission lacked jurisdiction to approve it, and its resulting decision is void."
Mr. Hawkins, of Hite, Fanning and Honeyman, explained that the landowners raised other issues in the appeal. For example, there is an issue about whether the County sent written notice to everyone entitled to receive it. "The judge decided that because of his ruling on the Article VII issue, those other issues were moot," he said.
Mr. Hawkins explains: "We are very happy with the judge's decision. This decision was not about wind power. It was about the limited power of a local government to make a decision when it fails to comply with the regulations, and about the power of the district court to review the legality of decisions like these. These procedures are in place to protect all of us, because the next zoning case might affect you."
If you would like more information about this topic, please call Jerry Hawkins at 316-265-7741, or email email@example.com.
HFH partner named 2017 Humanitarian of the Year
Congratulations to HFH partner, Dick Honeyman, and his wife, Bonnie Bing Honeyman, who were named the 2017 Humanitarians of the Year. This award was established by Dr. Donna Sweet to recognize people who make significant contributions to the Wichita community through leadership, guidance, philanthropic and selfless actions. The Evening of Note honoring the Humanitarians of the Year, was a laughter-filled celebration, as well as a benefit for the Sweet Emergency Fund. We are very proud of Dick and Bonnie!
Hite, Fanning & Honeyman lawyers recognized as Best Lawyers in America
In the 2018 edition of US News & World Report’s Best Lawyers®, Hite Fanning & Honeyman, is once again recognized as one of the best law firms in America. It received the publication’s highest ranking, Tier 1, in the Wichita metropolitan area, in the areas of commercial litigation, employment law (individuals), insurance law, banking & finance litigation, medical malpractice defense, defense of personal injury litigation and representation of employers in worker’s compensation matters. The “Best Law Firms” rankings are based on lawyer and client evaluations and peer review from leading lawyers in the field.
Individually, a umber of Hite Fanning attorneys were recognized. Linda Parks named the 2018 Lawyer of the Year in the area of bankruptcy and creditor rights/ insolvency and Gaye Tibbets was named the 2018 Lawyer of the Year in the area of employment and labor litigation, by Best Lawyers in America. Eight more Hite Fanning & Honeyman attorneys are included in the Best Lawyers in America 2018 edition. The attorneys selected were Art Chalmers (insurance law), Don Gribble (medical malpractice-defense), Jim Robinson (commercial litigation, bet-the-company litigation, banking & finance litigation), Jon Newman (workers’ compensation-employers), Kim Martens (workers’ compensation-employers), Randy Troutt (medical malpractice-defense), Richard Honeyman (personal injury litigation – defense) and Richard Hite (bet-the-company litigation, commercial litigation, personal injury litigation-defense). Best Lawyers is a peer review publication, seeking the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of colleagues in the same practice area. For more information, https://www.bestlawyers.com/Search?query=hite%2C%20fanning%20%26%20honeyman
Linda Parks is the Kansas State Delegate to the ABA
Linda Parks is the State Delegate, representing Kansas, to the American Bar Association's House of Delegates. She has been appointed to the Steering Committee for the Nominating Committee for the American Bar Association. Additionally, Linda serves on the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness and Poverty; its mission is to educate the bar and the public about homelessness and poverty, and the ways in which the legal community and other advocates can assist those in need.
HFH is a Chambers USA Leading Law Firm
For the twelfth year in a row, Hite, Fanning & Honeyman has been recognized by Chambers USA, an international publication, as a leading law firm in Kansas. Chambers conducts research including surveys of both clients and other lawyers in developing its rankings. In the 2017 publication, the firm was recognized for its abilities in the area of commercial litigation. According to Chambers USA, the HFH team “[r]epresents business clients in a range of complex litigation. Has talented litigators who handle matters across a broad spectrum of industries, including construction, real estate and healthcare.”
Additionally, six of its attorneys were recognized as leaders in their areas of the law. Jim Robinson is described by Chambers USA as a “highly acclaimed litigator with expertise in business, construction and professional liability issues. Art Chalmers is recognized for his “expertise in insurance coverage litigation and regularly assists clients in complex cases in state and federal court, including class actions and appellate matters. In addition to recognizing his extensive experience in personal injury cases in a wide range of industries, Chambers USA describes Don Gribble as “renowned for his expertise in medical malpractice cases, often defending healthcare providers and professionals in complex lawsuits.” Chambers USA recognizes Richard Honeyman as a highly experienced civil litigator in a broad range of industries, who is particularly recognized for a fine track record in professional negligence and persona injury matters. Additionally, Chambers USA recognizes Gaye Tibbets, as experienced in representing both employers and employees on a wide range of matters with significant expertise in discrimination claims. Of Richard Hite, who focuses his practice on mediating a wide range of civil matters, Chambers USA describes him as a “extraordinary lawyer” with a wealth of experience in commercial litigation and oil and gas disputes.
Chambers conducts research including surveys of both clients and other lawyers in developing its rankings. In the 2017 publication, Chambers USA, recognized the HFH team as "talented litigators who handle matters across a broad spectrum of industries, including construction, real estate and healthcare.”
Jim Robinson honored at Wichita Bar Association Law Day
The Wichita Bar Association presented Jim Robinson the 2016 Howard C. Kline Distinguished Service Award. This award recognizes an attorney who, through the years of his practice, has exemplified integrity, professionalism, and service to the legal community. The recipient is one whose qualifications and accomplishments are undeniably exemplary and who is widely acclaimed as having made significant contributions to the honor and practice of the law.
Jim has held leadership positions in the Wichita Bar Association, Kansas Bar Association, Kansas Association of Defense Counsel and Defense Research Institute. Currently, he is the Chair of the Steering Committee for Kansans for Fair Courts and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Lawyer’s Committee of the National Center for State Courts. He is also on the National Advisory Committee of the National Association of Women Judge’s “Informed Voter’s - Fair Judges” Project.
Past accolades for Jim include Distinguished Service Awards from the Kansas Bar Association, the Kansas Association of Justice, and the Kansas Association of Defense Counsel. He received the Kevin Driscoll Outstanding State Representative Award from DRI and is a member of the Social Sciences Hall of Fame of Southwestern College. In 2002, the Child Welfare League of America presented him the National Award for Board Leadership, after serving as Chair and as a member on the Board of Directors of United Methodist Youthville.
Jim was presented the award by the president of the Wichita Bar Association, on May 10, 2016. He was accompanied by his wife, Jennifer Robinson.
HFH is Benchmark Litigation "Highly Recommended Firm" of 2017
Hite Fanning & Honeyman is one of only two Kansas law firms “Highly Recommended” by Benchmark Litigation 2017. Benchmark Litigation is described as the definitive guide to America’s leading firms and attorneys in the area of commercial litigation. To receive this recognition, firms must receive the most consistent mention by their peers and clients and be held as dominate in their particular jurisdictions.Benchmark Litigation also specifically profiled Richard Hite, Richard Honeyman and Jim Robinson as standouts among Kansas litigation attorneys. A special congratulations to them! This is the fifth year that these HFH attorneys have been highlighted. https://www.benchmarklitigation.com/
HFH attorneys named as Super Lawyers
Attorneys of Hite Fanning & Honeyman have been selected for inclusion in the latest issue of Super Lawyers. Richard Hite is included in the category of general litigation, Richard Honeyman and Jim Robinson are in the business litigation category and Art Chalmers is in the defense litigation category. Linda Parks is recognized in the area of business and corporate work and Gaye Tibbets is included in the category of Employment and Labor. Additionally, Don Gribble and Randy Troutt are included in the list of attorneys defending medical malpractice cases. Finally, Scott Hill was selected to be included in the list of Rising Stars in the area of business and corporate work. Super Lawyers’ annual process for identifying attorneys include independent research and peer review. No more than 5% of the attorneys in the state can be included in the Super Lawyers listing.
Kansas Bar Association recognizes Jim Robinson
The Kansas Bar Association bestowed the Phil Lewis Medal of Distinction on F. James Robinson, of Hite Fanning & Honeyman, L.L.P. The Phil Lewis Medal of Distinction is reserved for individuals or organizations in Kansas who have performed outstanding and conspicuous service at the state, national or international level in administration of justice, science, the arts, government, philosophy, law, or any other filed offering relief or enrichment to others.
Kelly Rundell elected president of the Wesley E. Brown Inn of Court
Kelly Rundell has been elected president of the Wesley E. Brown Inn of Court for the 2017-2018 year. The Inn’s 100 members are selected through an application process. The membership is made up of Masters, Barristers and Associates, depending on the attorney’s experience. Kelly is a Master and has been a member of the Inn since its formation in 2008.
The Wesley E. Brown Inn of Court is a member of the American Inns of Court and in named in honor of Hon. Wesley E. Brown. In 1962, Judge Brown was appointed to the bench by President John F. Kennedy and when he died at the age of 104, he was the oldest federal judge still hearing cases. The Wesley E. Brown Inn of Court is dedicated to fostering excellence in civility, ethics and legal skills in order to improve the professionalism and quality of the bench and bar.
Tracie England joins the KADC board
HFH Partner, Tracie England, has been elected to the 2018 board of the Kansas Association of Defense Counsel (kADC). The KADC is a non-profit organization of lawyers who devote a substantial part of their practice to the defense of civil lawsuits. The goal of the KADC is to improve skills and knowledge of the attorney and to work for the administration of justice.
Gaye Tibbets elected to the Kansas Bar Association Board of Governors
Gaye Tibbets, a partner at Hite, Fanning & Honeyman, was elected to the Board of Governors of the Kansas Bar Association. She represents District 8, Reno County.
Jim Robinson receives KADC's Highest Honor
The Kansas Association of Defense Counsel presented F. James Robinson with the Kahrs Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is the KADC’s highest honor, given only to those individuals with a distinguished legal and public service career. Aside from being a highly regarded attorney, Jim serves as a leader in the educating others of the role of an independent judiciary. The award was presented during the KADC's annual conference in December 2017.