Wheatland Township voters will have their say on March 8 over an amendment to the township’s zoning ordinance that sets up special parameters for wind turbines.
The township’s board adopted the measure Sept. 12, and residents petitioned the language go to a public vote three months later.
The amendment would establish an overlay district to allow for development of utility grid wind energy systems, and required the special approval in area designated for residential and agriculture.
Wheatland Clerk Tina Terbrack said many residents in the township took issue with the established setback regulations for wind turbines, saying they weren’t big enough.
“That’s the biggest thing they’re saying,” she said. “Unfortunately, what they’re wanting for setbacks, the wind turbines wouldn’t be able to come in.”
The zoning change itself was in response to a proposed turbine project from Chicago-based Invenergy, which announced plans to utilize 25,000 acres in Wheatland and three other townships in early 2015.
Setbacks within Wheatland’s amendment stipulate each turbine has to be away from the nearest residence, school, hospital, church, library or municipal limit at a distance of no less than two times its height or 1,320 feet, whichever is greater.
Turbines also couldn’t be closer than 500 feet to the nearest non-participating property line.
Invenergy’s plans also affect Argyle, Lamotte and Moore townships.
Argyle also has its zoning change in a referendum March 8. Moore Township’s was rejected by voters Nov. 3.
Since then, Moore Supervisor Greg Dorman said township officials have held a few meetings where the ordinance was a topic of discussion. But they haven’t yet made another decision.
Those regulations required turbines meet a 1,320-foot or quarter-mile setback from residences and had to be roughly 700 feet from any road, power line or non-participating piece of property.
“I think we’re just waiting to see what happens with the two elections,” Dorman said of Argyle and Wheatland. “I don’t know what the answer is. There’s definitely some big opinions.”
Argyle’s measure up for referendum specifies similar requirements – the latter just being 500 feet from non-participating properties, instead.
Argyle Zoning Administrator Laura Bopra said officials will see how the coming election goes before approaching alternative solutions. Like in the other townships, she said it appears residents are in disagreement.
Lamotte Township Clerk J. Boyd King said their board approved a turbine-related zoning change a year ago after the planning commission came up with setbacks – he couldn’t recall the specifics – and it was never petitioned by residents.
Terbrack, who also sits on Wheatland’s planning commission, said residents’ concerns about turbines coming to town are generally related to falling property values, health and what happens if Invenergy abandons its equipment.
“They’ve been waiting for us,” she said of Invenergy. “We did a lot of extra meetings and extra study and hard work to try to come up with what was best. We looked at other counties, other ordinances, not just to here, but in other parts of Michigan.”
As Moore Township did, Terbrack anticipated having to go back to the drawing board if voters turn down their amendment. If not, the wind project couldn’t extend to townships where regulations aren’t set.
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