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Wind-farm forum brings call for zoning in Roberts

ROBERTS – A group of wind-energy opponents is urging village officials to create their own zoning regulations, a measure that would allow the town to keep wind farms from being built on farmland immediately outside its boundaries.

Mayor Rick Flessner and members of the village board were among about 50 people at a two-hour public forum at the Roberts Gym, where members of the anti-wind industry group Energize Illinois went head to head with an official from BP Wind Energy North America in a debate of issues surrounding the industry.

Flessner organized the meeting as a way for the village board and citizens to hear both sides of the issues. The village board is considering whether to create a zoning ordinance that would allow the town to ban commercial turbines within up to 1.5 miles of the town’s corporate limits.

Flessner said after the meeting that he expects the board to start discussing its options soon, perhaps in December. He stressed a decision will not be based on “just my opinion” or the village board’s.

“It’s your opinions (that will determine what direction to take), and we’re going to factor them in to make a decision,” Flessner told citizens present.

In the months leading up to last week’s forum, Flessner had said he was troubled by the noise created by a wind farm he visited in Iroquois County – the Settler’s Trail Wind Farm near Sheldon – and that he wanted the board to consider measures to restrict turbines from being built too close to homes in Roberts.

Two wind-farm developers – including BP Wind Energy – have recently been contacting landowners in the Roberts area about signing contracts to allow turbines to be built on their land.

Roberts has no zoning authority, falling under the jurisdiction of Ford County’s zoning ordinance, Flessner said. Under county zoning laws, wind farms can be built as close as 1,500 feet from the village.

But Roberts would have zoning authority in an area of up to 1.5 miles of the village if the town adopts its own zoning ordinance, said Susan Monte, a planner with the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission.

A zoning ordinance would allow the town to create its own zoning districts that would determine the types of land uses allowed, Monte said. The village would need to create its own plan commission and zoning board of appeals prior to creating the ordinance.

Roger Brown, business developer for Houston-based BP Wind Energy North America, said his firm has a meteorological tower set up “close to” 1.5 miles of Roberts. The tower is recording wind speeds in that area.

But Brown said “we’re not at the stage (in the planning process) of looking at building turbines within 1.5 miles” of the village.

BP’s proposed wind farm near Roberts is expected to include “at least 100 turbines” in Lyman, Peach Orchard, Patton, Wall and southern Brenton townships, Brown said. Brown said BP is “probably a couple of years away” from applying for a special-use permit from the Ford County Board.

Energize Illinois members Cindy and Ann Ihrke, who both live within a few miles of Roberts, and Rich Porter of rural Paxton urged the village to create its own zoning to avoid issues such as decreased property values in Roberts as a result of turbines being built to close to town.

Another issue mentioned was that if turbines are built too close, the village would lose any potential for growth.

The three Energize Illinois members were joined at the forum by Carolyn Gerwin, a Pontiac attorney and former Livingston County Board member. Gerwin, who was on the Livingston board when it approved the first of three wind farms in Livingston County, said Roberts has a chance to avoid many of the issues wind farms have created in her county and elsewhere.

Gerwin said property values can decrease an estimated 25 to 40 percent in areas within a mile of a wind farm, according a study done by an expert who testified at a zoning hearing for Livingston County’s third wind farm.