Anticipating large crowds and sometimes emotional testimony, a hearing in front of the county planning commission on whether a wind farm consisting of more than 150 windmills is scheduled for Mt. Pleasant’s city hall.
The hearing’s purpose is so that the planning commission can consider a special use permit for a proposed wind farm in five northern townships of the county. Those townships include Denver, Isabella, Nottawa, Gilmore and Vernon. All of them are covered under the county’s zoning ordinance.
Special use is a bit of a misnomer, actually, The application isn’t a request for a variance from the existing zoning ordinance, but just whether the plans by Isabella Wind LLC/Apex Clean Energy, Inc. meet standards in the existing zoning ordinance. It’s called a special use permit because the scope of the project is big enough that it requires approval by the county planning commission instead of by the county’s community development director Tim Nieporte.
Most of the proposed wind farm would take the form of a large blob bracketed on the south end of it by Beal City and Weidman and Rosebush with the north end a few miles southwest of the city of Clare. Transmission lines from the more than 150 individual windmills would travel underground to a substation outside of Rosebush, where an above-ground transmission line would carry the generated electricity vaguely northeast to Coleman, where plans hold that the farm would be connected to the electrical proper. A few more windmills would trail along that transmission line, forming something that looks like a tail.
The planning commission chose to have Thursday’s hearing in the chambers of the Mt. Pleasant city commission because those previous hearings attracted large crowds. Not everyone in the affected townships is happy with the wind farms, and some of the people who stood to give their input got heated.
It has spilled over into the last two elections in the affected five townships. Last August, in what was seen as a referendum on the wind farms, voters in the townships roundly rejected proposals for the five townships to individually depart the county zoning ordinance and draft their own master plans and ordinances. In November, in what was seen as a second referendum, a write-in candidate challenged County Commission Chairman George Green, who owns property on which at least one windmill would be located. Green won easily. Another county commissioner who owns land that could be home to a windmill, Frank Engler, was unchallenged. Recall efforts against two other elected officials fizzled, as well.
Those hearings were about amending the ordinance itself. Some of the standards in the ordinance by which the planning commission is tasked to review the permit were amended as a result of testimony in those hearings, Nieporte said. He described the zoning ordinance by which the special permit will be judged as a tighter document.
Establishing wind farm standards is a process that started off about a decade ago when wind energy was in its infancy in Michigan. Counties with an attractive wind profile began to add language to their county zoning ordinances to balance the right of property owners to use their land and the impact the windmills have on the right of neighbors to enjoy their property without them.
Planning commissioners are expected to take action on the permit. Since it’s a permit application and not a rezoning, their decision is not subject to veto from the county commission. People who believe they erred can appeal to the county’s zoning board of appeals. Ultimately, the circuit court would be the final arbiter.
The hearing is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Thursday inside the ground floor city commission chambers of Mt. Pleasant city hall, 320 W. Broadway.
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