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County will not honor wind-farm petition

The Stephenson County Board Wednesday declined to recognize a petition that could have impacted the July approval of several controversial zoning changes related to the wind-farm application process.

This conclusion was reached after the board heard a detailed report from county State’s Attorney John Vogt, who had reviewed the petition and found it did not have enough valid signatures to be recognized. The petition was five signatures short.

On July 11, the board approved zoning changes that 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.

Prior to the July 11 approval, objectors to the initiative filed a written protest containing a total of 1,706 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 board declined to recognize the protest, primarily because officials claimed they could not accurately determine the total number of landowners in the county at that time.

The matter was then referred to Vogt’s office for review. Vogt revealed Wednesday that he was able to determine the county has approximately 27,841 landowners. In order to reach 5 percent, the petition would have to contain 1,392 valid signatures.

Vogt said his office conducted a thorough review of the protest petition. Of the 1,706 signatures, 125 were eliminated because the signatures were on sheets of paper that did not describe what was being protested, Vogt said.

“I determined they would not be counted under the way I did it,” Vogt said.

An additional 194 signatures were then disqualified because they were either illegible or because the person who signed the document was not a county landowner, Vogt said. This means the petition only had 1,387 valid signatures, five fewer than what was required to be considered 5 percent of landowners, Vogt determined.

Board member Sol Detente Wednesday criticized the county’s handling of this matter. Specifically, he said the public was not given sufficient notice to prepare for the zoning board hearing held on the wind-farm changes.

“We’ve got a flawed process that was done,” Detente said.

By Travis Morse

The Journal-Standard

12 September 2007