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Boone County Board makes controversial ZBA appointment

BELVIDERE – Brian Van Laar, an outspoken critic in Boone County’s wind farm debates, is the latest appointment to the county Zoning Board of Appeals.

Van Laar has been a vocal critic for years, at one time leading a group that called for tighter restrictions on wind energy.

“He was the spokesman (and) very outspoken,” said County Board member Bill Pysson, who voted against the appointment on Wednesday. “I don’t want to say abrasive but very contentious. It just seems inappropriate.”

He replaced Darrel Davis, who also was in the running. County Board Chairman Bob Walberg made the recommendation to have Van Laar replace Davis because Davis now serves as Bonus Township supervisor.

Davis could not be reached for comment. There has been some legal concern, Walberg said, that Davis cannot serve in both capacities.

Walberg hopes residents give Van Laar a chance. The ZBA is bound to be involved should Mainstream Renewable Power follow through with tentative plans to build a wind farm with as many as 100 turbines on 12,000 acres in Manchester and LeRoy townships.

“I think highly of Mr. Van Laar,” Walberg said. “I hope people will give him the chance to earn the credibility of doing a great job, because I really think he will.”

Van Laar, 50, of Capron is the owner of Van Laar’s Fruit Farm. He also has engineering degrees – both a bachelor’s and master’s – from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. He said that, for some time, he’s been paying attention to ZBA happenings. Those include the board’s decision early this year to maintain a 1,000-foot setback between wind turbines and primary structures.

“The ZBA must hear evidence and must make their decision on evidence,” Van Laar said. “Whether you like it or you don’t, it must be based on evidence.”