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Douglas County township votes to enact zoning ordinances

NEWMAN – About 200 people packed into a steamy Newman Township garage Tuesday night to decide whether the township should pursue zoning.

And after more than an hour of discussion that evolved into a debate over wind farms, residents voted in favor of it, 86-57.

Now, the Newman Township Board must appoint five people to come up with township zoning ordinances that will eventually be submitted to trustees who can approve, change or deny them, according to the interpretation of local farmer Gary Huth, who moderated Tuesday night’s special meeting.

The gathering was the result of 15 residents petitioning the township for a public vote on the issue.

Paul Freebairn was involved in the petition effort. He has land in the area where EDP Renewables wants to build a 200-megawatt wind farm, and after doing research, he said he reached the conclusion that he did not want to lease land to the company and has been trying to get the Douglas County Board to make changes in its wind-turbine ordinance, like increasing the minimum distance between a turbine and the foundation of a house from 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet. But he said the county has not acted on his suggestions, so he and others pursued township zoning to address the wind-farm issue.

Tuesday’s special meeting started with voters determining the rules for debate, agreeing to let two people each from both sides of the issue to speak to the more than 140 people in attendance.

Freebairn was one of two who spoke for zoning. He mentioned setbacks and talked about health issues of people who live near turbines and declining property values.

Jim Biddle, who represented those opposing township zoning, said it’s all about money. He argued that the wind farm would bring in additional tax revenue to local taxing bodies like schools, the fire department and others.

“We will get some money from these people,” Biddle said. “It will be an opportunity for our township to live and prosper.”

Debbie Young, also representing those opposed to township zoning, said the push to enact it originated with a small group of people with a special interest, but it would have broader, long-term implications.

“Like a tax, once enacted, it will never go away,” she said, adding that zoning would affect many other things people want to do with their property.”