HURON COUNTY – An ordinance drafted by county planning commissioners will slow the process of approving wind turbine projects, ensure federal and state funding for the county and potentially affect development of downtown and business districts in Bad Axe and the villages of Ubly and Elkton.
The airport zoning ordinance, currently in draft form, would set height restrictions on commercial and residential buildings, structures and landscape within a 10-mile radius of Huron County Memorial Airport.
It’s an effort to eliminate hazards posed to the airport and to provide “protection to the users of the airport and to the people who live and work in its vicinity.” The ordinance also ensures compliance with state law and the county’s ability to continue receiving federal and state funding.
“Those funding opportunities are affected by zoning regulations,” said Jeff Smith, planning commission director. “(Huron County Memorial Airport) is funded a lot through the state.”
Effects on businesses, developers and residents
According to a draft of the airport zoning ordinance, a conical circle is established within a 10-mile radius of the airport. It allows a maximum height limitation of 500 feet above the established elevation of the airport at the outer edge, and has a minimum height limitation of 25 feet above the ground at some locations in the approaches to the runways immediately adjacent to the airports. The height limitations of the ordinance “become less severe as the distance from the airport is increased.”
The full text can be read at http://www.co.huron.mi.us/building_zoning.asp. Copies of the ordinance including maps depicting the different levels of height restrictions are available through the county clerk’s office, which can be reached at 989-269-9942.
Existing structures within the 10-mile radius exceeding height restrictions are allowed to remain. Airports not owned by the county need not adhere to the ordinance.
“There are multiple other airports perhaps within the county, but if they’re not county-owned, our zoning does not affect them,” said Clark Brock, planning commission chairman.
Although it places height restrictions on any structure within the boundary, Smith said the ordinance would not likely be a deterrent to new businesses looking to set up shop in Bad Axe, but an airport permit may be required for two-, three- or four-story buildings.
“I don’t see a lot of development that would happen in the Bad Axe area or outside of that that would be affected,” he said. “But if someone wants to put a water tower or cellular tower, that’s when we’ll be required to do this review.”
Wind turbine development
Developers planning to erect structures that exceed the height restriction within the 10-mile radius would be required to obtain a variance from the planning commission.
“Wind turbines will be affected,” Smith said.
Any proposed turbine within the 10-mile radius will have a thorough review, he said. In order to build a turbine, developers must obtain a determination of no hazard to air navigation from the FAA and a tall structure permit from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Next, the planning commission would need to hold a public hearing for a variance, granting either approval or denial for the variance request – and the state has the power to deny it thereafter, Smith said.
“This will basically slow the process of approving wind projects,” he said. “Most areas approved for wind energy are already developed.”
To determine if a building with a height of 80 feet planned for downtown Bad Axe exceeds height restrictions, a measurement from the center of the airport to the proposed location is used. The number is then plugged into a formula to determine elevation and a number for height that the building cannot exceed.
“My goal is that most of the time they’ll be under the threshold limit,” Smith said.
The proposed ordinance could soon impact a new development.
DTE Energy has plans for a new wind turbine project in Colfax and Meade townships. Four wind turbines would be higher than the allowed height restriction, said Mike Serafin, project manager. To be in compliance with the ordinance, DTE would need to file for variances.
“It’s an additional step in the process, but I don’t think it’s a huge detriment,” Serafin said. “It’s just going to take us more time.“
Serafin said turbines reach an average height of just under 500 feet.
“We planned for that 10-mile radius,” he said. “We knew there was some latitude within the last four miles, so we planned accordingly with that also.”
Serafin said the project is still in the planning phase and doesn’t have a total on how many turbines it will include.
A significant ordinance for Huron County Road Commission
The Airport Zoning Act of 1950 requires publicly owned airports to adopt airport approach plans. Having the plan – and a zoning ordinance – in place allows the Huron County Road Commission to benefit from federal and state funding, said Neal Hentschl, secretary-manager of the road commission.
Hentschl said the road commission, which is tasked with administration of the airport, is allocated $150,000 a year from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for airport improvements and enhancements. Generally, Hentschl said, the road commission lets the money received from the FAA build for a couple years to use toward future projects. A parallel taxi runway was constructed recently, at a cost of $600,000 with contributions from MDOT’s Office of Aeronautics.
“We sign a document saying we have an airport zoning plan; if we don’t, (the FAA) will say we’re not in compliance,” he said.
The repercussion means the FAA could ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants back if an ordinance is not in place. But Hentschl said that’s not likely to happen.
Still, the establishment of an ordinance remains important as Hentschl considers the airport to be an economic advantage for the county.
“Maybe its not seen as a huge money maker, but it benefits economically the area tremendously,” he said. “We’ve been at this for eight years. It’s been a long hard struggle to get to this point. If we don’t have a plan here pretty soon, if we apply for a grant, they’re going to turn us down.”
Enforcement and requirements of residents
The ordinance also would require trees in residential areas within the 10-mile radius to be trimmed to meet height restrictions. If a tree is too tall, the road commission is tasked with the alteration.
County and planning commissioners are seeking a civil infraction process – rather than criminal misdemeanor as originally proposed – for violations of the ordinance. According to the drafted ordinance, a fine of not more than $100 or an imprisonment of 90 days, or both, will be imposed on those found in violation.
“It really streamlines the legal procedure … a civil infraction process would make it much easier to enforce,” said Commissioner John L. Bodis, at the public hearing Wednesday.
Smith noted the benefit of eliminating a jury trial in enforcing the ordinance through civil infraction rather than criminal misdemeanor.
“We want compliance with our zoning violation; we don’t want to have to issue tickets for every single thing,” he said.
Smith said a second public hearing will be held after the draft is sent to the board of commissioners, and hopes to have a draft ordinance ready by April.
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