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Regulating the wind … turbines

WALNUT – What if you held a public meeting and nobody came?

It was a nearly empty house at Tuesday’s second meeting of the Walnut Planning Commission to consider an ordinance to regulate wind turbines outside the village limits.

It was a very different scene three months ago, when about 60 residents, both for and against the wind turbines, crowded the meeting room to make their opinions heard. The planning commission took no action at that August meeting, instead choosing to send the ordinance back to the village board for more work.

After months of special meetings, the board hammered out a new ordinance, and Village President Robert Brasen was at the meeting to explain the ordinance and answer questions.

Brasen read through the 26-page proposed ordinance, highlighting the changes. The new ordinance would prohibit anything within one mile of the village limits, and required approval for anything within the one to one and one-half mile range.

Turbines would be limited to the northwest and southeast corners of the village, which are the business and industrial sections.

Developers must apply for a conditional use permit, with a $5,000 non-refundable fee, for each turbine. Each application must include a commencement and completion date, a decommissioning plan, a plan for addressing complaints, and a property value protection plan, which would guarantee the value of the property of all non-participating property owners within two miles. Turbines would be limited to 450 feet in height.

Brasen said the “stickiest” issue for the board was the distance from the tower to any primary structure. The board set the distance at one-half mile, but allowed for the property owner to request a waiver. The turbines must also be set back from adjacent property of non-participants by at least three times tower tip height.

Brasen said under the current plans for Walnut Ridge, the ordinance would affect two turbines, but there could be more in the future, including some with the proposed Green River Wind Farm on the village’s north edge.

Commission member Gary Sarver said he had heard that if the village passes the ordinance, the developers will simply stay outside the 1.5 mile ring.

Brasen said that after the ordinance is passed, the county can’t override the village and approve any turbines within the 1.5 mile radius. The village can approve the ordinance because it has an existing zoning ordinance, unlike many other small towns.

Planning commission members had several concerns. Chairman Steve Schlumpf wanted a guarantee to restore all roads and other structures within six months to be increased to one year, following a full freeze and thaw cycle.

Committee member Ron VonHolten suggested several changes, including eliminating a section that would have allowed shadow flicker problems to be addressed with plantings or awnings. He also said complaints should include shutting down the turbine from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. until the problem is fixed.

“If it’s noise issues, you can’t say, ‘Well, in 60 days, I get to sleep,’” he said.

Quoting Dr. Carl Phillips, who recently testified at the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals, VonHolten said the setback from non-participating property owners should be at least one mile due to health issues affecting 20 percent of residents.

Schlumpf also questioned the property value protection plan. Brasen said no one else currently has the plan, but that it would be binding.

The commission unanimously approved a list of changes to be sent back to the village board for consideration. Brasen said the board would review the changes, and return the final form to the commission at a meeting set for 7 p.m. Nov. 15.

Brasen said the village board can approve the ordinance without the commission’s approval, but it would take a 75 percent vote instead of the usual majority.