PINE TOWNSHIP – With the Pine Township Planning Commission seemingly having worked out the majority of the details regarding the forthcoming wind ordinance, commissioners voted on Monday to hold a public hearing on the matter before sending it off to the township board.
The public hearing is potentially set for 5 p.m. on Feb. 14, although details are subject to change over the coming days depending on the availability of meeting locations.
The motion to send the current draft wind ordinance to a public hearing passed in a 3-1 vote among the Planning Commission. Vice Chairman Gary Christensen and Commissioners Jamie Gorby and Dan Main voted “yes” and Commissioner Bob Behrenwald voted “no,” while Chairman Scott Millard and Commissioners Chris Bell and Tyler Nadeau were absent.
“As you can see, we’re a little light tonight,” Christensen said at the beginning of the meeting. “Everybody has got COVID, it seems like. We decided amongst ourselves, since we still have a quorum, that we’re still going to hold the meeting.”
Pine Township attorney Leslie Abdoo of Foster Swift proceeded to recap some of the changes she made to the draft ordinance following direction from the Planning Commission during their previous meeting on Jan. 10. The alterations included changing the setbacks from property lines from five times a turbine’s tip height (or 2,640 feet, whichever is greater) to three times a turbine’s height (or 1,750, whichever is greater), changing the setbacks from bodies of water from 2.5 miles to 1.5 miles and requiring all decommissioned turbines and related wiring to be cut off at 10 feet below ground level (the land must then be restored with topsoil).
Abdoo also mentioned that she’d altered the township’s bylaws regarding conflicts of interest to ensure the Planning Commission has a quorum when discussing the wind energy ordinance.
Following the recap, Christensen spoke about his feelings about the current draft of the ordinance.
“I know there’s been a certain amount of concern amongst people on the commission – not just us, but the ones that aren’t here – about whether (the ordinance is) too restrictive or not restrictive enough. I hate to use the word restrictive, but we’re here to protect Pine Township. That’s what we’re going to do.
“I did some researching through ordinances in different townships,” he continued. “The figures we have are pretty much right in the middle (compared) to where everyone is at. You really can’t consider it restrictive.”
Turbine height is currently limited to 350 feet in the township’s draft ordinance, while sound levels are limited to 40 decibels.
“We’ve heard that there isn’t a turbine in the state that’s 400 feet,” Christensen said. “Maybe there isn’t, but there’s a lot of them out there that are. Maybe not in Michigan, but the technology is there. Just because somebody doesn’t want to use that, well. That’s not our problem.
“(Regarding) sound studies, it seems like, for every report you get from one expert, you get one stating the exact opposite from another. We’ve had comments about disappointment in (commissioners) not having gone over there (to Gratiot County) and seeing what it’s like in person. Anybody that’s driven through there, you’ll see the topography is not the same as Pine Township. Unless you pick one of them up and bring it over here, it’s not going to (sound) the same.”
Christensen continued to discuss zoning laws, property value guarantees and other matters related to the ordinance before concluding that he felt good about the current draft ordinance.
“I think it’s a good one. I think we hit all the bases. We have no say in a person that signs a lease – that’s between them, Apex and, hopefully, their lawyer. I, personally, wouldn’t sign that lease. Not because of the length of it, but, boy, there’s so much in it that turns my stomach – gag orders, giving up your rights to certain things, (etc.),” he said. “… I don’t think we can change anything in this ordinance to make it any better.”
Following the vote to send the ordinance to a public hearing, Behrenwald said his reason for voting “no” was because he wanted an industrial zoning district created within the township strictly for wind energy conversion systems.
“I’m not exactly sure how you’d do that,” Christensen said.
“It ain’t hard,” Behrenwald commented. “If you don’t got it, you make it. If somebody wants to put in a General Motors plant, you say the land is going to be commercial for a General Motors plant. You change it, and they build a plant.”
“Right, but you don’t have an industrial district,” Abdoo pointed out.
“I know we don’t,” Behrenwald said. “I’m saying we need one.”
“That’s up to the Planning Commission,” Abdoo clarified. “I’m just using what your ordinance has.”
“I know it, but I think we need an industrial district for this project, here,” Behrenwald continued. “No way are these light industrial or commercial. These things (turbines) are as big up there as a school bus. I’m sticking to it.”
Abdoo said the Planning Commission could always circle back around and make further changes to the draft ordinance following the public hearing before sending it off to the Township Board.
“With your (Behrenwald’s) suggestion, if you want to create an industrial zoning district, that’s going to take massive revisions to your zoning ordinance,” she mentioned. “You’d need to re-codify a lot in this. We’d be looking at another six months out for that.”
The Planning Commission initially intended to hold the public hearing at 5 p.m. on Feb. 14 at the township hall. With the township’s regular board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. that same evening, commissioners later agreed that the hall might not have enough space to fit everyone and that the meeting could cut into the township board meeting’s time, depending on how many people speak during public comments.
Gorby said she’d reach out to the Flat River Conservation Club to see if the meeting could instead be held there, while the possibility of the Wildflower Schoolhouse in Trufant was also mentioned. The township will publish the exact time, date and location for the public hearing when it is officially determined.
Montcalm County Planning Commission
If the Planning Commission votes to send the draft ordinance to the Township Board after their public hearing, board members will then have the option to adopt it.
If they do so, Abdoo said the ordinance then has to go to the Montcalm County Planning Commission – an entity, according to Abdoo, which can review and comment on the ordinance, but nothing more than that.
“That’s part of the process as well,” she explained. “We have to wait for their review and advisory comments for at least 30 days. After that, they (the Township Board) can adopt it. The Township Board can consider it before that, but their adoption won’t take effect until after the county reviews it.”
“I know they (the Montcalm County Planning Commission) said nasty things about Sidney’s (wind ordinance),” Christensen said.
“It’s more or less a necessary step in the process, for the county to be aware of what’s going on in local townships,” Abdoo clarified. “There’s no mandatory requirement that the township takes any of their comments or does anything further with those. It’s just part of the process.”
During public comments, Robert Scott of Sidney Township thanked the board for their work on the ordinance and spoke a bit further about the process with the Montcalm County Planning Commission.
“You guys have done a great job,” he said. “I don’t agree with everything you’ve done, but you’ve done a great job. As the vice chairman said, you’ve protected the township, and I appreciate that very much.
“… You’ve got some very pro-wind people on that county board,” he later noted. “They had some very negative things to say about Sidney’s ordinance. They didn’t even tell Sidney people they were going to be reviewing it. The Sidney people got word of it from a third party – I think from the Daily News, perhaps. Don’t be surprised if you go to that meeting and they say terrible things about your ordinance. You’re pretty much going to have to ignore them, and I recommend you do.”
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