BLOOMINGTON – McLean County Zoning Board of Appeals members passed a series of zoning amendment recommendations Tuesday, including one that would set the county’s definition of a farm in compliance with state law.
Zoning board of appeals members approved a recommendation to the county board to remove the county’s size limit for farms, as the Illinois Counties Code prohibits counties from regulating agriculture based on size.
McLean County’s current definition of a farm is “a tract of land that is 40 acres or more in size and is used for agricultural uses.”
Anna Ziegler, assistant manager of the McLean County Farm Bureau testified at Tuesday’s meeting in support of the recommendation.
“Our position is basically that 40 acres is kind of an arbitrary definition,” Ziegler said. “It’s been in the zoning ordinance for a long time (since 1999) and nobody’s ever questioned it, but when we reviewed it and saw it didn’t comply with state law, we might as well take it out and give those that are smaller than 40 (acres) the opportunity to be recognized as a farm when in fact they are.”
McLean County Farm Bureau President Mark Hines brought the issue to McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp’s attention in a letter last August.
Hines cited in his letter the Illinois Counties Code and a 1999 Illinois Attorney General opinion that said state law “does not, however, grant to counties the power to prescribe minimum acreage requirements in order for land to be considered to be devoted to an agricultural use.”
Ziegler said the McLean County Farm Bureau realized the issue through research after its members raised question about how agriculture exemptions are applied to certain farms.
The recommendation for a text amendment to the McLean County Code regarding its definition of a farm heads to the full county board for its approval.
The McLean County Land Use and Development Committee had initially sent a recommendation to the executive committee to remove the county’s farm definition altogether.
Executive committee members balked at that request because of the county’s recurring use of the word farm, and instead sent back a recommendation to delete “40 acres or more in size” from the county’s farm definition.
Zoning board of appeals members also approved three other recommendations to amend county code, including adding impacted residential land to the mitigation requirements for wind energy farm developers.
Currently, only impacted agricultural land is included in the mitigation requirements for wind farms.
The recommendation adds the following specific types of land within agricultural and residential areas to be included in repair and mitigation requirements: septic fields, residential drain tile, pasture, meadow, “yard or other land tracts” and private roads.
Developers for the 250-megawatt Sapphire Sky Wind Energy project in southeast McLean County expects the wind farm to begin commercial operations in December. It will be McLean County’s fifth wind farm.
Another recommendation passed Tuesday would require wind farm applicants to notify the residents of a home if the developer “contemplates” building more than five wind turbines within one mile of that occupied residence.
Currently, McLean County Code only requires the building and zoning director to call a public hearing when it receives a special use permit application.
As the McLean County Board approved in December to combine the county’s land use and development committee with the transportation committee to create the land use and transportation committee, zoning board of appeals members also accepted a recommendation Tuesday to allow the new committee to submit applications to the zoning board of appeals for text amendments.
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