GIBSON CITY – Members of Gibson City’s planning commission last week recommended the city adopt setbacks for residential wind turbines and solar panels which differ from the setbacks originally requested.
The commission recommended that the bottom of horizontal turbine blades be no fewer than 10 feet off the ground and the maximum height of turbines not exceed 20 feet. The commission also recommended the council outlaw any “commercial” wind turbine above 20 feet in city limits and on farmland within 1.5 miles of city limits, putting Gibson City in line with a similar measure passed by the Roberts Village Board last year.
For solar panels, the commission recommended a 5-foot setback from both the side and rear boundaries of a residential property, while also prohibiting wind turbines and solar panels from being installed in any front yard. Turbines would also need to be at least 35 feet away from buildings.
Also, wind turbines will be prohibited if their noise level exceeds 40 decibels.
Mayor Dan Dickey said he would prefer a 46-decibel noise limit rather than a 40-decibel limit. Dickey said 46 decibels is akin to the sound of a babbling brook, noting that trees would create more noise on a windy day than wind turbines.
However, Commissioner Mike Bleich said he would “rather err on the conservative side, instead of coming back a year from now and thinking we should have gone smaller.”
Commissioner Dr. Donna Boundy, while saying she would prefer not to listen to turbine noise, said she did not know how the decibel noise limit could be enforced.
“Who’s going do be the policeman to go out and test it?” Boundy asked.
Commissioner Terry Hutchcraft asked about property sales, specifically who would be responsible for removing a wind turbine or solar panel if the new owner of a property did not want to own one. Dickey said it would be the responsibility of the buyer just like in any other situation.
At the start of the meeting, commission Chairman Mary Timm suggested the city council propose changes to the wind and solar ordinance, instead of her commission, due to City Attorney Marc Miller not being present due to a prior commitment. Boundy, however, said she would prefer the commission consider the changes.
Hutchcraft said he was against residential wind turbines, prompting Commissioner Chase McCall to hold a straw poll on the commission’s interest. The vote was a 4-4 tie, with Bleich, McCall, Ken Kyle and Ted Timm all in favor of some type of residential wind structure and Boundy, Mary Timm, Hutchcraft and Dave Crow against.
After the deadlocked vote, McCall, who also serves on the Ford County Board, read through Gibson City’s solar and wind ordinance with commissioners while marking up changes.
Dickey said residents could own solar panels and wind structures without a formal ordinance but would need to obtain a special-use permit. And with the planning commission’s budget having been drained – members usually only meet once or twice annually – he urged the commission to recommended all changes since it would likely be the final planning commission meeting until May.
McCall noted that residents living in the city’s Falcon Pointe and Railside subdivisions and the Rasmussen Addition need to comply with covenants by seeking neighbors’ approval before constructing residential wind turbines.
As for solar panels, Bleich asked about changing maximum building costs listed in the ordinance so that commercial developers would not try to build larger turbines on a homeowner’s property.
Dickey recommended an 18-inch setback from property lines, but Bleich said he thought it was too close. Hutchcraft suggested requiring a maximum 7-foot fence be put around solar panels so there is no risk of injury. Boundy also said she would prefer a setback greater than 18 inches.
In the end, the commission recommended a 5-foot property-line setback without a fence required.
The commission’s recommendations advanced to the city council for its approval.
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