An amended wind ordinance for Piatt County is back in the hands of the county board after the zoning board of appeals asked for clarification on its rewrite.
Amendments to the Wind Energy Conversion ordinance, first approved in 2009, have been under consideration for about a year as Apex Clean Energy considers a 300-Megawatt project for northern Piatt County.
Proposed ordinance changes have gone back and forth between the ZBA and county board during the ongoing rewrite process, the latest revolving around allowable noise levels and setbacks. In March, the zoning board leaned toward sticking with more stringent proposals on those two items until more research is conducted.
The county board two weeks later approved a modified fee schedule for large scale wind energy projects as recommended by the zoning board, but referred other text amendments such as noise and setbacks back to the ZBA.
“The question is what did they send back to you?” said Zoning Administrator Keri Nusbaum. The confusion is apparently over whether zoning board members need to review just the noise level and setback sections, a larger swath of issues, or the entire ordinance itself.
Minutes of the March 11 county board meeting state a motion was approved “that the Amendments be sent back to the Zoning Board of Appeals for review.”
“We are asking the county board to give us more specific direction as to what they want on the WECS ordinance revision,” said ZBA Chairman Loyd Wax at the May 28 meeting of the zoning board meeting, conducted by Zoom.
A motion to ask for clarification was approved 3-0 by the ZBA, and should be on the agenda for the June 10 meeting of the county board.
Apex official Alan Moore felt the county board motion was clear cut, and requires the entire ordinance to be reviewed again by the ZBA.
“I did want to make sure it was clear that the minutes from the meeting were, as recorded, that the county board voted to send all of the amendments back to the ZBA for review,” said Moore. “It seemed pretty clear from the county board minutes that the county board sent back the entire ordinance for review.”
Last year, the ZBA recommended noise levels generated by wind turbines be no more than 30 decibels at neighboring properties. A recommendation to consider 50 decibels was made, but after public testimony the board recommended keeping it at 30 decibels, at least for now.
As for setbacks, Apex had said that a proposed amendment to require setbacks of 3.75 times the tower tip height or 1,600 feet from the edge of wind towers (whichever is greater) could be difficult to meet for its 120-turbine Goose Creek Wind proposal.
One recommendation was to reduce setbacks to 1.1 times the tower tip height or 1,600 feet, whichever is greater, but the ZBA again sided with the stricter, 3.75 ratio at this point.
County resident Dave Oliger thanked the ZBA for its careful consideration of the issue.
“I’d just like to thank the ZBA members for all your hard work on this ordinance, and to keep the health and welfare and property rights of residents in mind. I urge the county board to pass the ordinance as written,” he said, referring to the version that had lower allowed noise levels and larger setbacks.
“I appreciate the leadership of the county board and the ZBA in moving forward,” added Moore.
Jane Evans took time during public comment to speak up for wind energy.
“As a landowner, I feel they should consider this is a good thing for the communities,” said Evans. “I throw my support to the Goose Creek Wind corporation so they know that I want that to happen. I want their windmills to be put in.
“Where is our energy going to come from if we don’t go to the windmills?” she added.
Apex Clean Energy has not filed yet for the permits it would need to install windmills, which would be located in the northern portion of the county. It estimates the project would result in a $400 million investment and generate about $65 million for county taxing bodies over 30 years.
In other action, the board:
– recommended the approval of a variance to allow Tim Menacher to construct a 54-by-90-foot shed 25 feet from the road on agriculturally-zoned land at 1473 E 2350 North Road near White Heath.
Zoning ordinance requires a 50-foot setback without a variance.
– approved a special use permit to allow T.J. Shambaugh IV to exceed the county’s 45-foot height limits in construction of grain storage facilities at 856 North Highway 32 in Cerro Gordo.
Including the legs on the grain bin, the height will be 120 feet.
There was no opposition presented on either issue. Both will be considered for final approval by the county board on June 10.
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