The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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September 4, 2012

Joplin City Council tables Empire permit, approves dog park agreement

A second public hearing will be allowed next month by the Joplin City Council on a request by Empire District Electric Co. for a special-use permit to place a substation next to the Hidden Hills subdivision — a plan that continued to receive protests by residents on Tuesday night.

The request received a recommendation for denial by the Planning and Zoning Commission last month after it heard from the electric company and the opposing neighbors.

Empire is asking for the permit to operate a substation on land at the end of Highlander Drive in the Hidden Hills subdivision. On Tuesday, though, an Empire representative asked the council to table a vote on the request until the company could meet with concerned residents.

City Planner Troy Bolander told the council, “It’s one of those type of things that is needed, but nobody wants it in their neighborhood.” He recommended that the council delay a decision until after Empire conducts its meeting with residents on Sept. 13.

Tina Gaines, director of engineering and line placement at Empire, told the council that the company plans to show residents revised plans for the substation it has made in response to their concerns and to answer questions about the proposal.

Jeff Brown, manager of substation engineering for Empire, told the zoning board last month that the substation is needed to boost and back up the power supply to the area because of growth in southern Joplin and the future location there of the new Mercy Hospital Joplin. The power that will be required in the area will exceed the capacity of the existing substation in the 2500 block of Connecticut Avenue, he said.

The site is convenient because it is located under a large transmission line, which would reduce costs for building the substation, Empire officials have said.

Resident Jean Mauldin told the council that she had reviewed the city’s zoning code. She set out the requirements that she contended the proposal had to meet before it could be granted. One is that the location has to be uniquely suited for the use. She said the transmission line extends for a distance, so the location next to Hidden Hills is not the sole location that would be suitable for the station.

Mauldin said the zoning code also requires that the proposal not affect the quality of life of the neighbors. She said the project would affect the quality of life for Hidden Hills residents, and also those who live in The Highlands and in Wildwood. All three subdivisions are connected by a main road. There is no other access for Empire trucks and equipment to get to the site, which Mauldin said would endanger children and create noise.

Resident Rodney Lewis testified that he sent a letter to the council outlining the reasons for his opposition. He said that while he does not oppose progress or the building of a needed substation, “We do have issues with where it is built,” and with the placement next to a residential area where property values could be diminished.

Another resident, Janet Kervian, said Empire is looking out only for its gain and not for the best interests of all involved, and that the company started the work before obtaining the permit. “They purchased, cleared and readied the land without a word to anyone,” taking for granted that the permit would be issued, she said.

Resident Cecelia Marshall said she is concerned that the location of the substation could jeopardize any future route for a second entrance and exit to the subdivisions. She said she also is concerned about the noise that transformers in a substation could create.

Councilman Mike Seibert agreed. “We really do have a challenge with a single access” to the three neighborhoods, he said. He asked the city manager to have the Public Works Department examine the proposed project to determine if it would interfere with the eventual extension of Connecticut Avenue.

After the meeting, Public Works Director David Hertzberg said Connecticut Avenue would have to be extended farther west of the subdivision than the area where the substation is located because there is a ridge near 50th Street that would make street construction difficult.

The council then voted 9-0 to table to request until next month and to hold a second public hearing after the residents have met with Empire.

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