May 9, 2012

Some want their land out of Lake Township

By Karrie Koceba, For the Tribune, Huron Daily Tribune, 9 May 2012

CHANDLER TOWNSHIP – It was standing room only for many attending Monday’s Chandler Township Board meeting where interested parties gathered to hear the details regarding a proposal by a group of Lake Township property owners who want to transfer nearly 4,000 acres of property to neighboring Chandler Township.

Earlier this week, both Chandler and Lake Township Boards received a letter from Okemos attorney, William K. Fahey, expressing his interest in negotiating a State of Michigan Act 425 land transfer.

The proposal, if accepted, would let about 20 Lake Township property owners transfer their property to Chandler Township so they can place wind turbines on land that currently is leased to a wind energy developer.

“Act 425 allows for townships to transfer property, share tax revenues, and achieve economic development, which benefits both the townships and property owners,” Fahey said.

Fahey believes Lake Township voters were misinformed last February when they rejected zoning changes that would have allowed local wind energy development.

“The owners of the property were disappointed by the election,” he said. “Quite a number of the people in Lake Township who voted against the zoning, were, I believe, mistakenly told that this wind development was actually going to take place off shore or along Lake Huron.”

“Of course nothing could be further from the truth,” Fahey noted. “You can say anything you want in an election, and some people will even believe you. That is apparently what happened.”

Clay Kelterborn, who initiated the referendum that ended with Lake Township residents voting against wind development, said he finds the implication that voters were mislead or uninformed insulting.

“There are a lot of smart and intelligent people in both of these communities,” Kelterborn said. “Chandler Township made the decision to support wind energy, and they are unique in their own respect, as Lake Township is unique in its own respect.”

Lake Township resident Jeanne Henry asked whether the democracy of a having a vote means nothing.

“I find it alarming that a body of individuals can decide to reverse the will of a public entity,” she said.

Others present added that every property owner has the right to do whatever they wish to do with their property, so long as those actions are legal.

Fahey explained the conditions of the proposed transfer, such as the duration of the transfer, the sharing of tax revenues and that the services provided by each township would be entirely decided by the township boards.

“The townships decide how long the transfer will last,” Fahey said. “They can last as long as 50 years, and I’ve seen some that are as short as one year.”

Fahey explained the process by which a transfer agreement could be made.

“Typically, both townships would appoint a bargaining team who would work together to define the terms of the agreement,” Fahey said. “The agreement would then be subject to a public hearing, followed by approval of both boards and then a 30-day waiting period to allow for any referendum petitions.”

According to the letter sent by Fahey, a referendum only would be possible if citizens filed a petition containing the signatures of 20 percent of the registered electors who reside within the proposed transfer area.

The letter also states if there are no residents who reside in the transfer area, a petition signed by the owners of at least 50 percent of the land within the transfer area would qualify.

Huron County Commissioner Steve Vaughan asked if the land included in the proposed transfer has to be contiguous to Chandler Township, or if there could potentially be islands of land belonging to Lake Township within the new boundaries of Chandler Township.

“This is one item that is unique under Act 425 – the answer is no,” Fahey replied. “Having the property touching is a requirement for annexation, but not under this agreement. This transfer area only includes those landowners who want to transfer their property to Chandler Township.”

Audience members expressed frustration that the proposal would cause residents who are not part of the transfer area to be forced to live in the middle of a wind energy development without an opportunity to be heard.

Chandler Township Supervisor William Renn said when he looked at the map of the property in question, he noticed there are very few residences included in the 20 properties that would eventually be developed into a wind farm.

“Are there any residences involved in this transfer?” asked Renn.

“Only one,” replied several members of the audience.

“We’re talking about a very broad area on the southern tier of Lake Township,” said Fahey. “We are trying to avoid the residences.”

The setbacks for the turbines will be something that is up to the townships to decide, and those setbacks would apply to all houses in the area, Fahey said.

Supporters of the land transfer said the landowners who wish to participate in this transfer have been farming their property for more than 100 years. They noted their efforts to provide clean and renewable energy will benefit everyone.

Lake Township Clerk Valerie McCallum asked how many of the families who wish to participate in the transfer actually live on the property included in the Act 425 transfer.

“That’s somewhat immaterial,” said Renn. “I understand what you are getting at, but that is beside the point for what our discussion is about this evening – which is handling the Act 425 petition.”

“This is nothing that either one of these townships, Lake or Chandler, will take lightly,” said Renn. “We understand the touchiness of the topic.”

Others asked what would happen to the potential wind turbines if the land eventually should be transferred back to Lake Township.

“If turbines are developed under Chandler Township zoning ordinances, and then later transferred back to Lake Township, they would continue to be able to operate, even if Lake Township zoning prohibited them,” said Fahey.

Lake Township Supervisor Robert Smith, also present, said the Lake Township board has not had a chance to discuss the matter, but would be doing so at the board’s May 21 meeting.

“I just saw the letter last night, and I was really surprised by it,” Smith said.

Renn said the 425 agreement will not be entered into unless both township boards agree to it and there will be a public hearing before the final determination is made.

“We have been asked, by the property owners, to look at this possibility and that is what we are in the process of doing,” said Renn.

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