NORTH BRANCH TWP. – The North Branch Township Board of Trustee plans to hold a special meeting to consider adoption of a one-year moratorium on so-called “wind farms” in the community – before any utility companies formally apply to move forward with such plans.
The board voted 5-0 on a motion to ask North Branch Township attorney Brian Garner to draft a resolution calling for the one-year moratorium.
Amy Bridger-Snoblen, clerk, North Branch Township, suggested the idea during her clerk’s report at Thursday’s board meeting.
“Because DTE did call us the other day and request a copy of our ordinance … I’m not sure that they’re not closer,” said Bridger-Snoblen said with regard to DTE Energy applying for special land-use permits to erect wind turbines in the township.
Property owners in northeast Lapeer County have signed 20 agreements with DTE Energy Co. that are specific to “wind energy development.
A company spokesman confirmed DTE is in “the very early stages of talking to area landowners about a possible project at some point five to 10 years from now.”
The 20 DTE “wind energy development” easement agreements recorded by the Lapeer County Register of Deeds were signed between June 26 and Sept. 26, and encompass a total of 60 parcels in Burlington, Burnside and North Branch townships.
While the Burnside Township Board of Trustees will consider recommended amendments to wind ordinance on Nov. 27, Burlington and North Branch are in the early stages of developing such ordinances.
During Thursday’s meeting, Bridger-Snoblen raised the option of a moratorium in North Branch Township.
Moratoriums essentially buy officials time to consider and review potential amendments to the township’s zoning ordinance.
Such moratoriums typically prevent, on a temporary basis, the establishment, placement, construction, enlargement and/ or erection of wind turbines along with issuance of any and all permits, licenses or approvals for any property subject to the township’s zoning ordinance.
As previously reported, on Oct. 24, area citizens hit the North Branch Township planning commission with an onslaught of concerns and technical questions as officials introduced possible changes to an ordinance related to commercial wind turbines being considered for the area.
During that meeting, planning commission Chairman Kelly Martin – who also is president of the Village of North Branch – explained the commission is working to update an existing ordinance related to “wind energy conversion systems”, aka wind turbines. (The existing ordinance only pertains to small, independently owned wind turbines and doesn’t address commercial operations).
The planning commission’s role, Martin said, is to “fashion something that makes sense – the best sense we can make out of it – hold a public hearing when we have a finished product, and give people an opportunity to look at it and ask questions.”
The planning commission doesn’t have the ability to completely stop any companies from bringing wind turbines to the area without running the risk of “exclusionary zoning.”
Prohibited per state law, exclusionary zoning has “the effect of totally prohibiting the establishment of a land use within a local unit of government in the presence of a demonstrated need for that land use … unless a location within the local unit of government does not exist where the use may be appropriately located or the use is unlawful.”
“If it becomes apparent that you’re structurally zoning them out of existence, where it’s apparent they couldn’t possibly site one, that’s usually where you end up in a courthouse,” Martin said. “No township wants to be the one where these folks dig their heels in and decide to fight back because they’ll bankrupt you.”
“So what we come up with needs to be enforceable, and it needs to look like it makes sense,” Martin added.
When the planning commission reaches a consensus on what to recommend, Martin said, it ultimately is up to the township board to change, adopt, or deny the recommendations.
Martin ran through initial amendments during the Oct. 24 planning commission meeting.
The updates to commercial “wind energy conversion systems” encompassed a total of about one printed page of paper. By comparison, proposed amendments to Burnside Township’s ordinance are about 11 pages.
Martin explained the amendments originated with a recommendation from Rowe Professional Services, which based its recommendation on info gathered from “about five to eight existing ordinances in other communities.”
On Thursday, Bridger- Snoblen identified the need to spend more time on the amendments.
“It would give our planning commission 12 months to work on our ordinance without being rushed into something,” she said. “Because this was all thrown on us so quick.”
Supervisor Lynn Hoffman agreed and asked for a motion from the board to ask the township attorney to draft a moratorium resolution and set up a special meeting to “to go ahead and pass that resolution.”
The special meeting was not scheduled as of press time, but could be held within the next two weeks, he said. It would be held at a date prior to the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. on Dec. 14.
Bridger-Snoblen said the meeting date would be posted on the township website at northbranchtwp.com.
Hoffman expressed a sense of urgency in adopting the resolution “to get ahead of things, so you don’t have someone jump in here before.”
Hoffman said he was referring to a company applying for special land-use to establish utility operations in areas generally zoned for agriculture.
“If we don’t have that (moratorium) in place, they could come in tomorrow,” Bridger- Snoblen later told The County Press.
During the meeting, trustee Robert Kilbourn asked for clarification on the matter, specifically if it would apply to just DTE.
Bridger-Snoblen and Hoffman said it would apply to any wind development considered for the area.
“They wouldn’t be able to come in and ask for a special land use,” Hoffman said.
Brian Corbett, manager of communications for DTE, did not respond when asked by The County Press for comment on the move by North Branch
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