STANTON – Sidney Township’s proposed wind ordinance is “too restrictive” and might “put the township in jeopardy” according to one Montcalm County planning commissioner.
The Montcalm County Planning Commission met on Monday afternoon for the first time since August 2020. The main items on the agenda were a review of Sidney Township’s proposed wind and solar ordinance.
Of the seven planning commissioners present, only three (Chairman S. Michael Scott and planning commissioners John Johansen and Armon Withey) voiced comments on Sidney Township’s ordinance while the other four didn’t give any feedback (Michael Beach, Vice Chairman Chuck Hill, Daniel Brant and Secretary Rob Spohr). An eighth planning commissioner was absent, Lonnie Smith.
Scott began Monday’s discussion by reminding his fellow planning commissioners that Montcalm County does not have a zoning ordinance and has no authority over township ordinances.
“We have no jurisdiction with land use and zoning because we do not have a master plan,” Scott said. “We are an advisory board. We review them (proposed ordinances), make comments and send them back. They can use our comments or not.”
“I think it would be a good idea if this Planning Commission came up with a wind ordinance,” Withey said. “I’ve been to a few (wind meetings) and I mean, there’s all kinds of consternation out there about it, to say it nicely.”
Scott responded to this comment by recalling how three years ago the county created some advisory language for townships “for a model (wind ordinance) we would like to see” based on three documents: one from the state of Michigan, one from Michigan State University Extension and one from Gratiot County’s Pine River Township.
“Those are the recommendations that we made for them to look at,” Scott said. “We can’t tell anybody what to do. We can’t develop a wind ordinance and enforce it. We can’t tell a township what their zoning’s gotta be any more than we can tell a village what their zoning’s gotta be.”
Johansen, a former Montcalm County commissioner, said he spent a fair amount of time reviewing Sidney Township’s proposed wind ordinance.
“I am concerned,” he said. “In my reading of that proposed ordinance, in my opinion, there are at least 14 points that are too restrictive and do not meet the standard of the Michigan Planning and Zoning Act. The most restrictive, in my opinion, is in section 5 point A titled ‘setbacks.’”
Sidney Township’s proposed ordinance states that wind turbines must be 3,000 feet or five times the tip height from a non-participating property line or a road right-of-way.
“There are 5,280 feet in a mile,” Johansen noted. “Sidney Township, for the most part, is laid out in square miles. So if you have an ordinance that says that you have to be 3,000 feet from a road right-of-way, if you go 3,000 feet from this road, you’re now over within 2,280 feet, and of course you take out 60 feet for the road right-of-way.
“It probably means that you could just as well say ‘excluding wind development in Sidney Township’ because that rules out the ability to construct turbines in Sidney Township,” Johansen said. “I really challenge and would recommend to the Sidney Township Board that you ask your Planning Commission to review this ordinance, take out those restrictive things and I would suggest to you that you use the MSUE document that we mailed you a copy of in February. The state zoning and planning act prohibits what you are attempting to do there, in my opinion.”
Scott also noted Sidney Township’s proposed ordinance would only allow turbines to be 300 feet tall.
“300 feet, that’s a smaller turbine,” Scott said. “From what I hear, some of them are 500 feet, so that might be a little …”
“We’re changing ours to 600 (feet) because of the bigger ones,” Withey agreed. “You go out to Iowa, the 300-foot ones might be fine, but around here I think we’re starting to see the bigger ones.”
Withey told the Daily News after Monday’s meeting that his “we’re changing ours” comment was referring to Belvidere Township, where he said a consultant told the township they should make their turbine height limit approximately 600 feet.
“The lower the height, the more turbines you have to have to produce the megawatt that you want,” Johansen said during Monday’s meeting. “The higher it is, the number’s reduced.”
“I don’t believe in that,” Withey responded. “They’ll (wind developers) just put up more towers. They’re more concerned about this stuff and the money that’s generated from that. They might start out with a few because they’re tall, but they will put out up more assuming that they meet some of the other requirements.”
Johansen said as far as he knows, 300-foot turbines aren’t even being put up in the United States anymore.
“All of them are going taller,” Withey agreed.
“There’s 14 (concerns) that people can question and can put the township in jeopardy if they stand the way they’re issued right now,” Johansen concluded. “That’s my opinion.”
The Planning Commission unanimously voted to send their comments to the Sidney Township Board for their consideration.
“We reviewed you, you can review what we said,” Scott told the three Sidney Township officials in attendance – Supervisor Terry Peterman, Clerk Carrie Wills, Trustee Ray Leyrer.
There was no public comment offered as no one was in the audience other than the three township officials, Montcalm County Controller-Administrator Brenda Taeter, a Montcalm County sheriff’s deputy and the Daily News.
Chris Mark was also present as he has been recommended by the Montcalm County Planning Commission to fill a Planning Commission seat vacated by Bruce Noll (the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners will vote on this recommendation at their next regular meeting at 4 p.m. Monday).
“I’d just like to thank you for taking the time to review the ordinance for us,” Wills told the Planning Commission as Monday’s meeting adjourned.
The Sidney Township Board is next scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. July 5.
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