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Not easy to count area land owners; wind farm opponents hope 1,800 signatures equals five percent  

FREEPORT – Zoning officials from some neighboring counties say they would have difficulty calculating with certainty the total number of landowners in their counties.

Making such a calculation has become an issue in Stephenson County with the County Board’s recent approval of several controversial zoning changes that will affect the wind-farm application process. Before the board approved the changes, objectors to the initiative filed a written protest containing about 1,800 signatures.

County zoning regulations, which are modeled after state law, indicate that a protest containing signatures from 5 percent of county landowners will alter how a vote is taken on zoning changes. If a protest is 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.

On July 11, the County Board declined to recognize the protest and the zoning changes were approved in a narrow 12-9 vote.

Wendy Ryerson, chief county assessment officer for Lee County, said it would be a problem to determinine an exact number of landowners. This is especially true of properties with multiple owners, she said.

The reason for this is that Lee County’s software system does not have a complete listing of names for properties with multiple owners that have not been sold since 2000. Prior to 2000, there was only room in the system to list the name of one of the owners, Ryerson said.

The calculation would also present a problem for Carroll County. Vivian Eaton, the County’s chief assessment officer, said determining the number of landowners would involve examining each parcel of land. Such a process would take a great deal of time and effort, she said.

“It can be done, but it would have to be done by hand,” Eaton said.

Ogle County officials, however, say they would likely be able to determine a number. Mike Reibel, the planning and zoning administrator for Ogle County, said his office has access to a “fairly mature” Geographic Information System and a database.

“I’m pretty confident we could do that within a reasonable degree of accuracy,” Reibel said.

Just wind farms

The zoning changes in Stephenson County alter the classification of wind-farm projects so they are now considered permitted uses for the county’s agricultural district. The projects were previously classified as special uses, requiring a permit of the same name.

Under the new system, future wind-farm projects will no longer go before the county Zoning Board of Appeals. The county zoning department will now evaluate each project using a set of guidelines established by the zoning code.

Terry Groves, director of planning and zoning for the county, said the new zoning ordinance only makes wind-farm projects a permitted use. Other renewable energy projects, such as biodiesel plants, would have to obtain a special-use permit, he said.

By Travis Morse

The Journal-Standard

20 July 2007

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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