The Tuscola County Planning Commission won’t rush to review potential changes to Almer Township’s wind ordinance, but chances are it won’t recommend many – or any – alterations to it anyway.
That’s according to Zygmunt Dworzecki, chairman, Tuscola County Planning Commission, who said the planning commission essentially compares any zoning ordinance changes that comes before it with a checklist about one page long and flags anything that might be an issue.
The last time the Tuscola County Planning Commission recommended rejecting proposed changes?
In 2008, following the commission’s review of proposed changes to the county’s master plan.
“If we start taking the job of an attorney or planning engineer who actually know what they’re doing per se, and it went to court and they proved us wrong at all, we’re the ones that get the county into a lot of trouble and we’re not looking to get the county in trouble,” Dworzecki said.
The Tuscola County Planning Commission is required through the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (Act 110 of 2006) and Michigan Planning Enabling Act (Act 33 of 2008).
The county planning commission is reviewing proposed changes to Almer Township’s wind ordinance after the township planning commission were able to collectively agree on amendments after months of meetings on the subject.
There are eight people on the county planning commission, though two of them (Cindy Kapa and Christine Trisch – liaison to the board from the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners) were not there on Wednesday.
Proposed changes are reviewed by a committee – in the case of Almer Township it’s the Zoning Ordinance Analysis Committee, which consists of Kapa and commission member Lou Smallwood, who represents the Vassar area and has “not really, closely” been following recent discussions about wind turbines in Tuscola County, which has about 200 wind turbines already.
At some point before the next Tuscola County Planning Commission meeting, Kapa and Smallwood will compare the proposed changes to the Almer Township wind ordinance that could clear the way for a $200 million wind turbine project using a checklist that includes about 30 points laid out in a list that is slightly more than one page of regular paper.
On Thursday, Dworzecki said “it could take four hours or it could take four weeks” because the commission had received the proposed changes on Monday, Aug. 1, and didn’t know how many pages were in the document.
The county planning commission isn’t taking the matter up until its Sept. 7 meeting because it didn’t receive it in time, Dworzecki said.
Dworzecki said the planning commission tends to stick to assuring proposed zoning changes comply with the checklist than anything else, essentially serving as “another set of eyes” and leaving officials in local communities like Almer Township to decide what’s best for themselves.
“As far as planning or whatever, we point it out but we can’t make the community change it,” he said, adding that even if the county planning commission rejects changes the individual communities can still move forward with changes.
But that didn’t stop those who have been vocal about the planned $200 million “wind farm” project called Tuscola III from trying to reach the planning commission.
Dworzecki said Mark Trumbauer, project manager, Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C. – the company behind the project – called him “to ask why we weren’t taking any action and to see where I’m at on wind turbines.” The call was made within hours of Tuesday’s primary election in which several members of the group known as the Ellington-Almer Concerned Citizens were elected to represent their communities.
Several of those members were among the 20 or so people who packed into a conference room at the county’s administrative building in Caro on Wednesday – about 18 hours after the primary results were released.
The overwhelming message was urging the county planning commission to thoroughly review Almer’s proposed changed.
“The main thing that we’re looking for is that this is looked at very thoroughly and carefully,” said Art Graff, the top vote-getter among seven Republicans who ran for trustee in Almer Township. “Go through it slow, read it, digest it – good, bad, or indifferent.”
Despite NextEra and the citizens reaching out to the planning commission, Dworzecki said the group will likely not make any recommended changes based on anyone’s opinion or input made during public comment.
“My opinion is I like windmills,” Dworzecki said. “But when it comes down to looking at what’s fair for the community you have to go by what the laws and the ordinances are in place, and to follow them.
“We’re not going to interpret them any other way cause it’s not fair to anyone,” he said. “That’s why we have the criteria sheets that we use…we’re constantly consistent. We don’t deviate.”
The Tuscola County Planning Commission next meets at 5 p.m., Sept. 7.
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