After a lengthy meeting Thursday night, the Stephenson County Zoning Board of Appeals voted not to recommend proposed changes to the county’s zoning code that would alter the wind-farm application process.
The zoning board Thursday listened to testimony from a variety of objectors to the proposed changes. At the end of the nearly four-hour meeting, the board voted unanimously not to recommend the wind-farm changes.
Officials say the consensus of the board Thursday was that they could not recommend the altered zoning ordinance because the changes would limit the public’s ability to object to future wind-farm projects.
“I still believe in our system of government that the public is heard, and they need to be given that opportunity,” said Zoning Board Chairman Jim Yeoman on Friday.
The zoning proposal will still go before the Stephenson County Board next Wednesday for a vote, said Terry Groves, director of planning and zoning for the county. If it chooses, the County Board can go against the zoning board’s recommendation.
“It goes to the full board now,” Groves said. “We’ll see what happens.”
County officials say the proposed changes will streamline the application process for wind-farm companies and make the process more cost-effective.
Opponents say the changes could allow the county to sidestep lawsuits seeking to stop two wind-farm companies from building in this county.
Opponents are also concerned that the changes will limit the public’s ability to formally object to future wind-farm projects, since under the new proposed system such projects would no longer go before the zoning board for evaluation.
The proposed changes would alter the classification of wind-farm projects so they would be considered permitted uses for the county’s agricultural district. Currently, the projects are classified as special uses, requiring a permit of the same name.
Under the new system, the projects would no longer go before the zoning board. The county zoning department would evaluate each wind-farm project using a set of guidelines established by the zoning code.
At Thursday’s hearing, Mike King of rural Dakota asked the zoning board to postpone the hearing to give him more time to collect signatures needed to file a formal protest. This request was not granted.
“I believe I have not had adequate time to collect signatures,” said King, a property owner who lives near the proposed Lancaster Wind Farm. “All I ask is for a fair shake.”
King said Friday that he was encouraged by the zoning board’s negative recommendation. Even so, the County Board will likely approve the initiative, he said.
King said it will be very difficult to obtain the necessary number of signatures for a protest by next week’s County Board meeting. He estimated he needs about 1,000 signatures for a protest, or 5 percent of county landowners.
If King files a formal protest, the zoning changes would have to be approved by a three-fourths majority vote of the County Board, as opposed to a simple majority, King said.
Sharon Wise of rural Freeport said Thursday that the zoning changes would be a “giant step backward” for the community. The changes would deny the rights of citizens to due process and a public hearing, she said.
“To eliminate this denies all logic,” Wise said.
The next County Board meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday.
By Travis Morse
6 July 2007
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