A single action item on the Livingston County Board’s agenda Thursday night drew an hour-long debate over the legal and economic ramifications of its passage. The Board ultimately decided to table the item, which concerned Indian Grove Township requesting an ordinance change for its own specific township.
Indian Grove Township is southwest of the Pleasant Ridge Township, where the County Board recently denied the Invenergy’s application to build a wind farm.
The ordinance request put forth for Indian Grove was a measure to move setbacks on properties an untenable distance for wind turbine construction; in other words, it appears to be a proactive measure to safeguard against wind energy interest in the area.
Yet after Bill Flott, the Agriculture and Zoning Chairman whose committee had originally reviewed the request, brought it to the attention of the Board at large, a number of questions were raised.
Board member Joe Steichen wondered aloud about the legality of a township, as opposed to county or municipality, to have its own zoning code.
“There are some questions as to whether or not the townships actually have the authority to put out this resolution, “he said. “I know we’ve looked at some of the statutes for the counties, who have authority granted to them by the Illinois General Assembly to site wind farms. Municipalities, under a separate statute, have the authority to regulate and site wind farms.
“There’s nothing in the statutes that can be found that gives townships the authority. So if this motion is made, I’d like it be on roll call vote, and I will not be voting; I’d like to be put down as a non vote, because I don’t believe this resolution is legal.”
Still other concerns were raised over the possibly unintended consequences that setting such a precedent might have. Though a non-binding referendum for townships was mentioned, some wondered whether a passage of Indian Grove’s request would open the floodgates for other townships.
Flott warned that such a circumstance might result in a “checkerboard” appearance of the county, with townships granted greater restrictions in ordinance codes mixed in, perhaps arbitrarily, with townships that sought to keep its ordinances more lax.
Some thought that such a situation might make Livingston a de facto anti-wind farm county, as even townships without restrictions might not have enough contiguous space for turbine development.
Member Mike Ingles agreed with Steichen on the legal gray area, while also mentioning the potential negative consequences for businesses in general.
“The road we’re starting down here is to say that a Special Use Permit would be allowed in zoning, excepting one township … and then potentially, multiple townships,” he said. “I’d be very interested in our legal counsel pursuing that legality.
“You’re talking about zoning. Whether it’s county or municipality … I have never heard of Special Use Permit being allowed in part of a district and not the other.
“I’m really bothered by this ultimate ‘checkerboard’ effect. Not just about windmills – I’m talking about economic development. When you start such a convoluted zoning map, I think you’re sending a message to all kinds of development that ‘you’re not welcome here.’”
Ingles then called a motion to table the item for further discussion, which was passed with “no” votes coming only from members Carolyn Gerwin, Stan Weber and Mark Runyon. Steichen upheld his promise of electing not to vote on the issue.
In matters, the Board:
• Agreed to bids proposed by the Highway Committee for fixing damaged infrastructure on county roads, totaling $35,000.
• Accepted the Finance Committee’s resolution authorizing an $826,000 as-needed loan to the Highway Committee should the state delay Motor Fuel Tax payments.
• OK’d an extension in the Pontiac Host Agreement with the landfill.
• Approved a six-month extension to refine language in Special Use Permits for wind energy projects.
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