The Stephenson County Board approved controversial wind farm zoning changes at a meeting Wednesday night in Freeport.
The Board voted 12-9 in favor of the changes which remove wind farms from the special use category.
The vote alters 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 will no longer go before the zoning board. The county zoning department will evaluate each wind-farm project using a set of guidelines established by the zoning code.
On July 5, the county Zoning Board of Appeals voted not to recommend the changes after listening to testimony from numerous objectors to the initiative.
About 1,800 signatures
At Wednesday’s meeting, county officials revealed that objectors to the changes had filed a written protest on Tuesday containing about 1,800 signatures.
Zoning regulations indicate that a protest containing signatures from 5 percent of county landowners will alter how a vote is taken on zoning changes. If the protest had been ruled valid, the changes would have to be approved by a three-fourths majority vote of the County Board, as opposed to a simple majority.
But, County Board Chairman John Blum informed the board Wednesday that the county’s ordinance is not clear in defining how many signatures are required to equal 5 percent because attorneys weren’t certain of the total number of landowners in the county.
Blum and others recommended that the board move forward with voting on the initiative Wednesday, and that the matter could then be pursued in the courts. That is what the board decided to do.
Supporters of the changes Wednesday argued they were necessary to streamline the zoning process. They argued that the county was in favor of wind farms as an important source of renewable energy.
Board member Samuel Newton said that the county needs the revenue from these wind farms, and that the projects are necessary for continued economic development.
“We need the financial backing that can be had from this,” Newton said.
Others objected to the changes. Board member Sandra Kubatzke said the changes alter the definition of agriculture to include wind farms, which she could not support.
“Just because they’re in the country doesn’t mean they’re agriculture,” Kubatzke said.
For information on the final vote, go to www.journalstandard.com .
By Travis Morse
12 July 2007
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