It started as a request for a county-wide wind turbine zoning ordinance to battle a proposed DTE wind farm in the four northwest townships.
Now the updated Branch County master plan is nearing completion. It does not deal directly with wind and solar energy issues, but leaves regulation up to each individual township.
At its September quarterly meeting Wednesday, the Branch County Planning Commission approved the draft of the revised 1993 master plan to be sent to the county commission to authorize distribution to the public.
The plan states “Branch County does not have a county zoning ordinance and there is no intent to adopt one. Under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, a county cannot adopt a wind energy ordinance without adopting a zoning ordinance.” The same goes for a solar energy ordinance.
The plan does attach recommended model ordinances drafted by consultant Pat Hudson.
Most townships facing wind and solar projects have already adopted ordinances drafted by consultant McKenna & Associates.
The master plan notes that under the state’s Tall Structures Act, building codes must comply with height restrictions in the airport zoning area. The state law requires the county to enforce its airport zoning law to prevent structures that interfere with landing approaches to Memorial Airport. Commissioners reenacted that law this summer.
The acceptance by the county commission for distribution to the public begins a 63-day period for public comment which can or cannot change the draft.
Hudson said the commissioners must also decide whether it wants final approval of the plan or will accept the planning commission’s final vote. A public hearing is held for final approval after the 63rd day.
Hudson also pointed out if there are changes, the process begins again for redraft by the planning commission.
Hudson left the Southcentral Michigan Planning Council in July, but stayed on one day a week to allow him to finish the update of the 1993 Master Plan.
The plan covers all areas of county life from agriculture to water quality in general terms. It also has details of the census, to be updated to the 2020 figures, and includes capital outlay for government agencies which will need to be updated on a regular basis.
The detailed plan will be available once the county commission authorizes the distribution.
Algansee Township presented its solar and wind ordinance to the planning commission. The commissioners did “review the ordinance and did not find any major concerns with it.” It also found the same with the Matteson Township rewrite of its zoning ordinance.
Supervisor Kevin Barns showed a table of permitted uses by right and special permit for each zoning district.
“It was done to streamline it and make it user-friendly,” Barns said.
The changes drafted with help of McKenna also were preemptive. It widens drives for gas stations although there are none in the rural township. It sets parking lot standards with the only one at the township hall.
Looking to issues in other townships, there are regulations for commercial composting. Batavia Township is fighting a battle over one.
There are even regulations for electronic signs with none existing in the township.
Until the request for the 2019 wind turbine zoning, the Branch County Planning Commission had not met in more than two years. Now it is back to meeting quarterly.
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