March 23, 2015

Without county-wide zoning, could more wind turbines be built?

By Jeff Broddle | Cadillac News | 03/23/2015 |

Wind turbines went up rapidly in Missaukee County where there was no zoning to control where they could or could not be placed.

With Wexford County discussing eliminating county-wide zoning, it’s fair to ask the question of what it would mean if zoning at the county level was dropped and relegated to the townships.

Given that there is no county zoning in Missaukee County, government’s role was largely limited to the building department running each wind turbine through the permitting process.

According to Missaukee County Clerk Carolyn Flore, Public Act 116 required the county be notified of an change in status for the plot of agricultural land containing each proposed wind turbine.

Public Act 116 allows farm owners to receive income tax benefits. It also makes the land exempt to special assessments by allowing owners to enter into a development rights agreement with the state. The agreement states the property owner will continue to use the land for agriculture for at least 10 years and not develop it for any non-agricultural use.

Planning Commission Chairman Corey Wiggins said the commission has been developing questions for township supervisors in order to gauge how they might want to move forward with changes to Wexford County Zoning. So far the Wexford County Board of Commissioners has stopped short of eliminating zoning entirely. Some discussion has centered around tailoring zoning to specifically suit rural or suburban properties, rather than having a one-size-fits-all approach across the county.

Outside of having each individual township institute its own zoning, other options that have been discussed in public would have townships with similar interests banding together to share the costs and responsibilities of determining and enforcing zoning.

Members of the planning commission will meet with township supervisors May 13 to meet as a group and talk about plans for moving forward, Wiggins said.

Another option would be for the county to have a bare bones zoning ordinance in place that covers the entire county, with more in-depth zoning handled at the township level, Wiggins told the Cadillac News.

Wind turbine project manager Rick Wilson said Heritage Sustainable Energy, owner of the Stoney Corners Wind Farm in Missaukee County, has identified Clam Lake Township in Wexford County for possible further wind turbine development. Highland Township in Osceola County, where Heritage already has a handful of wind turbines, also is of interest.

Heritage Wind Farm consists of 29 wind turbines, with most of them in Missaukee County, Wilson said. But the main thing limiting the company from putting up more turbines, said Wilson, is a lack of transmission capacity to be able to effectively deliver the power to the grid.

Mike Green is the county zoning administrator for both Wexford County and Haring Township.

If Wexford County did decide to eliminate county zoning, Green said, then decisions on wind turbines would be made on a township by township basis.

Only Haring Township and Cedar Creek Township have their own zoning ordinances.

Construction of wind turbines in Haring Township would be unlikely because the limitations placed on the height of towers in the township. Construction of tall structures is limited by the existence of the Wexford County airport, which prohibits the height of structures based upon their distance to the airport in order to maintain a clear flight path.

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