Residents want rules for county development

To provide oversight in unincorporated areas; new legislation eyed

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Left: Canadian County Commission Chairman Jack Stewart; Right: District 1 Canadian County Commissioner Marc Hader

By Conrad Dudderar
Staff Writer

Canadian County Commissioners have been asked to establish rules and regulations for new development outside city limits.

But it appears it will take the Oklahoma Legislature to make it happen.

David Wilds recently told the three commissioners they are the “last line of defense” to oversee housing additions being built in unincorporated areas of Canadian County.

As an example, Wilds cited a large “high-density” development on a quarter-section of previous farmland near Manning and Britton roads northwest of Yukon.

Canadian County does not have an inspector to approve this type of construction project.

“We’ve got a whole lack of oversight out here in unincorporated land,” Wilds said. “I’m not sure what you (county commissioners) can do, at this point.

“We’re the fastest-growing part of the state, we’re the fastest-growing part of the county. We can’t just massively grow with no rules or regulations. That’s a master plan for disaster.”

Wilds was among Canadian County residents who addressed county commissioners at a Oct. 18th public hearing on Green Valley Water District’s annexation petition.

Another resident who attended was John Magers, who asked whether Canadian County could hire its own building inspectors like other counties have.

“There needs to be inspections to protect the consumer,” Magers said. “Just because somebody says they’re a builder doesn’t mean they know construction.

“I’ve been building since 1978. Many builders have no clue what the building codes are. They rely totally on their sub-contractors to build it, and the consumer assumes it’s right. It’s not always right. … You need inspections in the county.”

Canadian County Commission Chairman Jack Stewart said this was something county officials “could check into.”

Housing additions proposed inside city limits require builders and developers to receive approval for planning/zoning boards and city councils.

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‘OUR HANDS ARE TIED’

New state legislation is needed to give counties authority to regulate development in unincorporated areas – whether it’s home construction or marijuana grow farms, Stewart said.

“Our hands are tied by the fact we can only do what state statutes allow us to do,” the District 3 commissioner explained. “Anything the statutes don’t proactively address, we cannot do.

“That’s what counties are faced with. Citizens in the unincorporated area come to the county for protection, and we have no way to help them.”

Commissioners attended a legislative interim study Oct. 21 at the State Capitol where legislators discussed giving counties the option to have ordinance-making and/or regulatory authority.

“Right now, we don’t have that,” Stewart said. “It really ties our hands where we can’t take care of the unincorporated citizenry.”

The Oklahoma Legislature could consider legislation to give counties “more autonomy” like municipalities, according to District 1 Canadian County Commissioner Marc Hader.

“There will be some county officers that will oppose the idea because they don’t want to have that flexibility,” Hader noted.

As it stands now, he said Canadian County voters would have to pass a ballot measure to create a county planning/zoning entity.

Only a handful of counties – including the largest Oklahoma and Tulsa – have their own such entities, Hader noted.

Canadian County’s population grew by 33.6% over 10 years, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

The data shows Canadian County with a population of 154,405, an increase of 38,864 people over the previous decade. Canadian County’s population was 115,541 in the 2010 Census.

Much of this growth is in eastern Canadian County surrounding Yukon, Piedmont and Mustang.