The final decision on whether Fayette County’s zoning ordinance concerning the setback distance standard for wind turbines still rests with county commissioners, but the Area Plan Commission this past week might have made that decision a little easier for them.
The Fayette County APC voted 8-0 Thursday night – APC member Jason Waterman was absent – to give an unfavorable recommendation to county commissioners concerning a petition from the Wind Project Concerned Citizens group, which had been seeking to amend the county’s setback distance for commercial wind turbines – from a non-participating landowner’s dwelling – from 1,000 to 2,640 feet.
The recommendation came at the conclusion of the APC’s public hearing on the matter, which was held at the Robert E. Wise Center for Performing Arts to accommodate the 150 to 200 people who turned out for the hearing.
The public hearing had been originally slated for May 11, but was tabled by the APC due to the not all members of the public attending the meeting being able to fit inside Connersville City Hall without violating fire code.
The WPCC has submitted the petition to the county in response to the slated Whitewater Wind Farm project by NextEra Energy Resources of Juno Beach, Fla., which would see roughly 52 wind turbines constructed in Fayette County – specifically Posey and Fairview townships – as part of the overall $250 million project including portions of Rush and Henry counties.For the WPCC group, the petition requesting the amendment – which would increase the county’s setback distance for wind turbines from 1,000 to 2,640 feet, along with additional noise level amendments – is to provide a safeguard for county residents, specifically those in the area of the proposed project who aren’t participating in the wind farm, who have concerns about possible shadow flicker, noise, decreased property values and other physical and environmental concerns the wind turbines could bring.
Those concerns were reiterated by the attorney representing the WPCC, Stephen Snyder of Syracuse, Ind., during his 30-minute presentation to the APC. Snyder told the APC that the county’s current ordinance lacked restrictions for commercial wind turbines and did not offer sufficient protection to non-participating landowners, thus the petition to increase the setback distance.
“That is for the protection of the person who has invested, undoubtedly, a significant amount of money into their property, wants to continue to reside there without any of the difficulties that can be created by an industrial wind facility,” he said.
Snyder cited several examples of those difficulties, ranging from unhealthy noise levels, sleeplessness and stress, shadow flicker and other physical, environmental and even financial detriment – such as decreased property values – to nonparticipating landowners, throughout Indiana, which have properties at least 1,000 feet from a wind turbine.
Snyder went on to add that several other Indiana counties, such as Tipton and Whitley counties, have instituted a 2,640-foot setback ordinance from turbines, after researching the possible effects, and that the 1,000 foot setback distance – which many Indiana counties have – actually began at the behest of the wind energy companies to make it easier to construct wind farms.
“There is no factual basis for it,” Snyder said. “It was just what was suggested by the energy companies at the time these ordinances were proposed. I can’t help but suggest … there’s some selfinterest in that.”
Snyder’s presentation was followed by several members of the public speaking out in favor of amending the setback distance, such as Fayette County resident David Spencer, who said the APC should consider the welfare of all county residents when considering their decision on the proposed amendment.
“I think it’s important to remember you’re here as a zoning board, not as a fiscal body of the county,” he told the APC. “Generating revenue for the county is not part of why you’re here. You’re here to make sure a well thought out zoning plan is adhered to and that individual property owners are protected against the actions of neighbors or even more distant people in the county.”
Mary Solada, an Indianapolis attorney representing NextEra, then gave her presentation to the APC, stating that the county already had a good setback ordinance in place, while refuting some of Snyder’s claims about the negative effects of wind turbines.
“First of all, we think your ordinance is a very good ordinance,” she said. “I say that because, in my practice over the last six or seven years, has been largely devoted to considering wind ordinances in several other counties.”
Solada went on to tell the APC that she would provide research, reports and other evidence at the APC meeting in August, which will consider NextEra’s application for special exception in order to construct the wind turbines, but would not present the evidence during Thursday’s meeting, citing the APC’s process for applying for a special exception. “We fully anticipate we will introduce evidence at that hearing to talk about all the things Mr. Snyder touched on this evening,” Solada said.
Solada also cited Indiana law which, she said, pointed out that NextEra filed the application for the special exception, they would be governed by the ordinance in place at the time of that filing, not any which would be subsequently changed, and that NextEra had even agreed to increase the setback distance 400 feet more than the county’s minimum standard. Another caveat, Solada told the APC, is that commissioners had already signed agreements with NextEra stating they would not change the setback ordinance without prior consultation with NextEra.
Solada was then followed by several members of the audience who spoke in favor of not changing the county’s current ordinance, such as Chad Ripberger.
Ripberger said county residents seeking the wind farm had brought NextEra to the area, did their homework on whether there was negative impact from such projects, and that changing the setback ordinance would be a huge blow to a project which could benefit the county.
“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that with mile squares, 2,640 feet is a halfmile setback,” he told the APC. “It will kill this project. It cannot happen.”
With the public hearing concluded, APC President Bryan Jennings opened up the matter for discussion or questions among his fellow APC members, of which there were none.
A motion was then made, by APC member Ed Herrell, to give an unfavorable recommendation to commissioners concerning the proposed amendment to the setback ordinance. Herrell based his motion
on his belief the county already had a good ordinance in place, having been part of the group which helped create the ordinance for the county. His motion was seconded by APC member Gabe Nobbe, who said his reason for the second was having done research of other counties and concluding the current setback ordinance was a sound one. The APC then voted to give the unfavorable recommendation, a vote which disappointed Snyder and the WPCC supporters.
“It’s disappointing, always, because the material I submitted, they could not have reviewed by the time the hearing concluded,” he said. “So, you look at it from that standpoint, they obviously have considered other things outside of what was presented at the hearing, which is questionable but not unexpected. The true decision-making process takes place with the county commissioners and we’ll present the same evidence to them. The times I’ve done this before, I’ve found that commissioners could take several weeks, and several meetings, to ultimately make a decision.”
Fayette County Commissioner will have the final vote, likely in June, on whether to support the APC’s recommendation to keep the current ordinance or to amend it. A date for that meeting has yet to be set.
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