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With wind turbines at stake, Sherman votes for planning commission

SHERMAN TOWNSHIP – The Sherman Township Board of Trustees voted to form its own planning commission Tuesday night during a special meeting.

The 3-2 decision came after several members of the crowd of about 100 pleaded with the board – both for and against the move.

Some people indicated that the main reason behind the township becoming self-zoned, as opposed to county zoned, is a proposed wind overlay district currently under consideration by the Huron County Board of Commissioners.

Supervisor Leo Emming, who voted against the resolution, concurred with this point.

“The only reason this township zoning issue versus county zoning comes up is due to the windmills,” Emming said.

The county is currently “doing a fine job,” he said.

According to the ordinance, the commission would have five members, one of which would be a board member.

The commission would be required to conduct four meetings per year.

“Nothing obligates you to take back your own zoning,” said attorney Mike Homier, who is advising the board on the issue. He is from Grand Rapids-based Foster, Swift, Collins and Smith law firm.

But if the township decides to self zone, this is a necessary step, he added.

Others attending the meeting who addressed the board included Jeff Smith, Huron County director of building and zoning, and Richard Hessling, who was the township zoning administrator before the township became county zoned years ago.

Many residents asked how much it would cost for the township to become self zoned. And Hessling asked the board whether permit fees would cover the expense of the commission.

Smith said it would be up to the township to designate permit fees. He described some of the zoning costs that the county incurs.

The township would need a master plan. The county has recently spent $25,000 updating its master plan, Smith said.

The county also spent two years and thousands of dollars changing its wind ordinance.

The county also pays each planning commissioner for each meeting they attend, plus mileage.

The county would still enforce building, plumbing, electrical and mechanical permits, Smith said.

The county, he added, has in-house legal counsel.

Homier is charging the township $250 an hour, and the money will be taken from the general fund, Emming said.

Homier said that the township at this point is not locked in to creating a planning commission immediately.

Once the ordinance is published, it will be another 60 days before it takes effect.

Trustee Jerome Hessling said this would give the board time to look into the issue before committing.

Treasurer Ladonna Volmering said local control is worth exploring.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t have turbines,” Volmering said.

Volmering added that she and 12 other nonparticipating landowners went before the Huron County Planning Commission to ask to be left out of the overlay district, but the commission approved the district mostly as presented by NextEra Energy Resources.

“That’s not necessarily how zoning should work,” Volmering said.

County planning officials at the time said that they were concerned about such action being perceived as spot zoning. Spot zoning, which many officials say is generally a bad practice, can occur when planners zone a small area or parcel for uses contrary to surrounding areas.

Jerome Hessling, Trustee Lillian Sheasby and Clerk Kathi Jahn all said that they would like to see the issue go before the people for a vote.

Jerome Hessling, Sheasby and Volmering voted in favor of the ordinance.

Residents have the right to petition for a referendum to protest the decision the board made Tuesday night, Volmering said.

Another thing people wondered was why the township went to county zoning after having been self zoned years ago.

The public was dissatisfied with local zoning, Emming said, and there were complaints of favoritism.

Richard Hessling said it was deemed to have been too costly for the township to design a master plan, which was then a new requirement.

“The county was willing to take it over, and they had the resources to do it,” he said.

“We just didn’t have anybody that would take over and do this, what I call, for nothing.”

County commissioners are expected to vote on whether or not to allow the overlay district Tuesday.

Of the 65 turbines in the project, 45 are intended for Sherman Township. The remainder are proposed for Sigel, Sand Beach and Delaware townships.

Bryan Garner, manager of communications for NextEra, told the Tribune that the company is committed to the project.

“Our understanding is that Sherman Township took the first step toward self zoning,” he said. “This can be a costly and labor intensive process that can take months (to implement).”

“We want to build a project this community can be proud of, and we have gone above and beyond to ensure we have addressed everyone’s concerns and that everyone will benefit from the Huron Wind Energy Center.”

NextEra recently pledged to pay $1,000 a year to nonparticipating landowners in the overlay district.