The Maple Valley Township Board added two new members to its Planning Commission at Monday evening’s meeting – as well as heard calls for the supervisor and a trustee to recuse themselves from a wind ordinance discussion.
The Planning Commission is currently comprised of five members but the township ordinance calls for seven, which residents have been calling attention to in recent meetings, especially in light of the Planning Commission continuing to work on a new wind ordinance in response to Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Montcalm Wind turbine project.
During Monday’s meeting, Supervisor John Schwandt recommended adding two new members in order to bring the number of planning commissioners up to seven. Schwandt said while he had a pile of possible candidates – “everybody and their brother who was interested” – he recommended adding Ann Petersen and Dennis Dombrowski to the Planning Commission.
“I think they’ll be a good addition to the board,” Schwandt said. “These guys seem to be middle of the road on issues.”
The township board voted 5-0 without comment to approve the recommendation.
About 60 people were in attendance Monday, some of whom weren’t happy with the new Planning Commission appointments.
“I know that Ann is a pro-wind person. I’m not sure about Dennis, but I really don’t think that’s considering what the people are interested in by putting her on the Planning Commission,” Sherrill Houser of Maple Valley Township said.
Houser later posted photographs on the Montcalm County Citizens United Facebook page of Petersen’s house which showed pro-wind signs in the yard.
During public comment Monday, Robin Poulsen of Maple Valley Township referenced last week’s Planning Commission meeting and a comment she said was made by Schwandt at that meeting.
“I believe I seen your true colors, John Schwandt – you called out the word ‘money’ loud and clear,” Poulsen said. “To me this only says one thing: that there is no possible way for you to give us, the township or its residents, the transparency and the truthfulness that it takes for us to pass a safe ordinance. And also with being employed by a lease-signer (referring to Schwandt working part-time seasonally for Carr Farms). So here tonight I am asking you to recuse yourself from any wind-related discussions or votes.”
Poulsen also addressed Trustee Lee Frandsen, who is also on the Planning Commission.
“I did ask you once if you would have a wind turbine and your response was, ‘yes, I am getting ready to retire and I could use the money,’” Poulsen said. “And with the lack of your participation at the last meeting when I seen you nod off three different times, that is not the type of representation we are to receive during our township business. So I am asking you also tonight to recuse yourself from any wind discussion or votes.”
“I did not nod off,” Frandsen responded.
Schwandt did not respond to Poulsen’s comments.
After the meeting, Schwandt told the Daily News, “I’m trying to do what’s best for our community. We have persons on both sides of the issue that want their way. As a board, we are trying to do what’s best for all involved. I do believe there are places in our township to allow them (wind turbines) to operate safely.”
During Monday’s meeting, Poulsen also noted the township is five months into a wind moratorium, leaving only two months before it expires and with no wind ordinance in place. She requested another six months of moratorium, as did her husband, Mike Poulsen. The township board did not take any action on this request as Schwandt said he would have to check with a lawyer first.
Sherry Olson of Maple Valley Township asked the township board to consider mailing out a survey to find out if the majority of residents want wind turbines in the community. Tim Thornhill of Maple Valley Township agreed about the surveys and noted he has previously offered to pay for a township survey to be done and that his offer still stands. Robin Poulsen suggested having several community members on both sides of the wind issue compile a survey.
“We can just borrow Pine Township’s,” Schwandt responded. “I’m sure they wouldn’t care.”
“That’s probably what got us into trouble with the ordinance in the first place was borrowing another township’s ordinance and not doing our own,” Penny Bassett of Maple Valley Township noted. “You guys said you looked at Pine River’s (from Gratiot County) and that’s what you based your ordinance on and that’s what caused this whole uproar here.”
Bassett was referring to Maple Valley Township’s now-repealed wind ordinance after approving it in November 2020.
The Maple Valley Township Planning Commission is next scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on July 1.
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