Editor's note update 10 a.m. Thursday, May 20: According to Ellis County Sheriff Scott Braun, Cynthia Tuttle of the C2T Ranch was booked into the Ellis County Jail on Monday on a charge of disorderly conduct. She bonded out that same night. Braun said the case will be referred to the Ellis County Attorney.
By CRISTINA JANNEY
A discussion at the Ellis County Commission meeting Monday night on a proposed campground and event center ended in one of the applicants being led away in handcuffs.
The commissioners denied a request for a conditional-use permit for a proposed campground and event enter 14 miles north of Hays at the C2T Ranch.
After the vote, some of the about 30 people who attended the meeting, as well as the applicants, Cynthia and Chad Tuttle, exited the commission chamber into a rear hallway.
Yelling and a scuffle could be heard from the commission chamber. Cynthia Tuttle was lead out of the county building in handcuffs by a member of the Ellis County Sheriff's Office.
The commission denied the conditional-use request on a vote of 2-1 with Commissioners Dean Haselhorst and Neal Younger voting to deny the request and Commission Chairman Butch Schlyer voting in support.
Multiple people spoke against the project at the meeting Monday, including several neighbors.
Haselhorst and Younger both expressed concerns about safety at the campground. Younger cited concerns about flooding at the campground. The Saline River flows through the ranch, and campsites were planned for the flood plain.
Conflicts with hunting
Jason Brin represented Majestic Whitetails LLC, which has a hunting lease with the Mark Metz Trust, which operates as the C2T Ranch. Brin lives 1.5 miles south of the ranch.
Brin expressed concerns with increased traffic, fire danger, hunting safety and trash.
In 2019, Majestic Whitetails entered into a 25-year, pre-paid hunting lease on 100 percent of the land within the trust.
Brin said the lease says the Tuttles can't license, lease or give any other individuals permission to access the property for recreation or hunting.
"This planned breach of contract should speak volumes to this body on what to expect going forward," Brin said.
Chad Tuttle countered Brin later in the meeting saying he believed the campground was an extension of agritourism and was exempt from the lease. He also said he did not think the camping would interfere with hunting on the property.
He noted a large buck had been shot near one of the campgrounds this season after the campgrounds were closed for the winter.
Attorney Chad Taylor also spoke to the commission. He represented a neighbor who owns land adjacent to the C2T Ranch and uses that land for hunting.
Taylor echoed some of Brin's concerns, including traffic and trash. In addition, he expressed concerns about sewage disposal Taylor said the landowner he represents is concerned campers will dump sewage into the Saline River water system.
Tuttle said later in the meeting they had placed portable toilets to service the current primitive campgrounds. Guest staying in RVs have been directed to public dump stations in Hays.
The C2T Ranch has an existing sewer system, but the Tuttles would have to gain proper certification from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment in order to use it as a dump station for campers.
Operating without a permit
The C2T campground has operated for about a year with two RV sites and several primitive campsites. Hundreds of people visited the ranch last season. The ranch was voted the No. 1 campsite in Kansas on Hipcamp last year, and the No. 2 RV campsite in the country, the Tuttles said.
Taylor argued the Tuttles have been illegally operating a business without a permit.
"You can only take the beg for forgiveness, ask for permission so far," he said. "There is a ton of specificity in this document that is not present."
Schlyer asked County Counselor Bill Jeter about county enforcement. Jeter said it would be up to the Ellis County attorney to determine if any laws had been broken. Charges can be filed for violations, which could include fines or jail time. The county could also file an injunction to shut the current campground down.
Tuttle argued his campground was not considered a commercial campground becuase of its size. He further argued the campsites were an example of agritourism, which is allowed under the Ellis County Comprehensive Plan.
"If you want to go ahead and pass a resolution to stop me," Tuttle said, "I will become the poster child for Ellis County, Kansas, trying to stop a rancher from doing agritourism.
"We are attempting to bring people down to show them the ranch. ... There is no reason to act like I am some kind of criminal because I have operated the business for the last year."
Problems with the process
Brin also expressed concerns about the notification process for the project application.
The Metz Trust property consists of about 2,000 acres. However, the campground project was only filed for about 154 acres. That excluded many neighbors of the trust from the official notification process.
Brin alleged the application area was reduced to avoid protest petitions being filed. He said he should have been able to file a legal protest petition and force a unanimous vote from the county commission.
Chad Tuttle said he reduced the application area to reduce the potential tax burden.
Mason Ruder, Ellis County environmental planning supervisor, said he thought the planning process had been conducted properly. Schlyer also said in an interview for the KAYS Morning Show on Tuesday he thought the application had been handled properly by the planning department and planning commission.
Brin also asked the commission if the land was current on property taxes. Schlyer said to his knowledge, the property was not current on property taxes, but he felt that was irrelevant to the conditional-use application.
Randy Thiel has a home a half-mile from the proposed campsite and said he was excluded from the notification process. He had concerns about construction and activity in the Saline River flood plain, fire danger, trash, noise and dust pollution from increased traffic on the rock road.
Linda Brin, neighbor, said she and her husband enjoy camping, but she did not want to live next to the C2T campground and deal with the traffic, fire hazard and unknown people the campground will draw to the area.
She also expressed concerns about flooding.
"I have lived here most of my life and witnessed some flooding along the Saline River and [the danger] it can pose," she said. "I would hate to see campers trapped in an area of a ragging river that can quickly get out of its banks. Flooding and tornadoes can occur during the night when there is not much time to react."
Tuttle said the campground has finished an emergency plan, which includes a warning system for campers using cellphones. Haselhorst and Younger argued there was not adequate cell service in the area for such a system. Tuttle argued there was and said he was working with Nex-Tech to have repeaters added in the area to even further boost signal.
An emergency shelter was in the campground plan, Tuttle said.
Younger and Haselhorst both expressed concerns about evacuating the area in the case of river flooding.
"If I were in a camper, I would be very concerned to be in your campsite looking at your map," Haselhorst said.
Tuttle argued it could be done safely, especially considering the location of historical flooding on the ranch compared to where the campgrounds and platform for the event tent would be located.
Haselhorst also brought up the issue of fire danger.
Tuttle said he planned to add a water tank to deal with quick fire suppression. He has a disc available to fight fires. He said he also implements burn bans at the campground in dry or windy weather.
Leann Zimmerman also spoke against the proposal. Zimmerman's Buckeye Barn event center's permit request was denied by the Ellis County Commission earlier this year.
Zimmerman said the ranch does not have a public water system. Tuttle said he was weighing the cost and benefits of drilling a well that could be certified as a public water system or tapping into the Trego County water system.