September 8, 2014

Officials to weigh if zoning is needed; Committee could also be formed to revisit wind farms

Tracy Moss | The News-Gazette | 09/08/2014 |

DANVILLE – More than 10 years ago, a proposed mega-sized hog farm had some Vermilion County residents calling for zoning. Next, it was a proposed medical waste incinerator.

Now, it’s wind farms.

Zoning has been a long-controversial issue in Vermilion, which has never had a land-use system, like other East Central Illinois counties, including Champaign, where zoning has been around for four decades.

But that could begin to change Tuesday, when county board members will vote on whether a committee should explore countywide zoning. The board also will vote on whether a committee should be formed to revisit the county’s rules regulating wind turbines.

This newest call for zoning has grown from a grass-roots effort – led by a small group of residents – to pass tighter restrictions on wind-farm development. With no zoning, county officials have continually said they can’t legally do much more than they’ve already done.

Several years ago, prior to the first wind farm development, the county board approved some basic safety regulations for wind turbines, including setbacks – the minimum distance a turbine must be from other structures, adjacent property lines, roads and more. The original distance of 1,000 feet was later amended to 1,200.

But about a dozen residents have continued to lobby the board to extend those setbacks. Some of them live near the county’s first wind farm – the California Ridge project – which has 100 turbines in western Vermilion County.

A second farm, the Hoopeston Wind project, is now being built and will extend northwest of Rossville.

Last month, Vermilion County Board member Kevin Green, R-District 2, said it was time for the board to revisit wind turbine regulations and asked the county to form a committee. County board member Jim McMahon, D-District 9, requested that a committee explore creating a countywide zoning system.

In response, officials have drafted two resolutions for the board to vote on during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think it’s good for the board to talk about it, but I’m not sure the board will feel a committee is necessary,” board member John Alexander said. “And I don’t believe it will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction at any point in time. It will remain a controversial issue, whether action is taken or not.”

Champaign County has had zoning since 1973. Its setback restrictions are close to Vermilion’s. Zoning Administrator John Hall said there are still disputes, but zoning “is the easiest way to protect the interests of property owners.”

In the past decade, Hall said, Champaign County has strengthened its zoning to protect its prime farm land.

“And oddly enough, we could never adopt those kinds of restrictions if the land owners weren’t in support of it,” he said. “You don’t often hear people asking for more limits on how they can use their land, but Champaign County has been making sure their best, prime farm land cannot be used wastefully or inefficiently.

“Once zoning is in place, most people are glad to have those kinds of protections in place, so there’s a clear limit in what can be established next to them.”

Zoned out Which area counties have zoning laws and wind farms?


Zoning? Yes

Farms: California Ridge (30 turbines)


Zoning? No

Farms: None


Zoning? Yes

Farms: One currently and another proposed


Zoning? Yes

Farms: One currently and another proposed


Zoning? Yes

Farms: None


Zoning? No

Farms: California Ridge (104 turbines) and another under construction

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