STANTON – Nine months ago, the Montcalm County Planning Commission met to review Sidney Township’s wind ordinance and determined it was “too restrictive.”
On Monday, the county Planning Commission met to review Pine Township’s wind ordinance – which is mostly based on Sidney’s – and reached the same conclusion.
Chairman S. Michael Scott and county planners Mike Beach, Chuck Hill, John Johansen, Chris Mark, Lonnie Smith and Armon Withey were all present while Daniel Brant and Rob Spohr were both absent.
The main purpose of Monday’s meeting was to review Belvidere Township’s proposed solar ordinance and Pine Township’s proposed wind ordinance and to provide feedback to both townships in an advisory capacity only.
No Belvidere Township officials were present. Three Pine Township Planning Commission members were present – Gary Christensen, Jamie Gorby and Dan Main – while no Pine Township Board members were present.
The county Planning Commission had very little to say about Belvidere Township’s proposed solar ordinance other than Withey’s recommendation that an attorney review it before the township board votes to approve it.
County planners had more to say about Pine Township’s proposed wind ordinance.
“It’s a mirror replica of the Sidney Township wind ordinance,” Johansen said. “Probably less than 500 words are original. It’s my opinion that like the Sidney Township one it’s too restrictive and it does not meet the standards of the Michigan Planning and Zoning Enabling Act.
“Pine Township could save themselves a lot of effort by just saying, ‘In Pine Township we’re not going to allow turbines.’ Naturally they’re not going to do that because that would not get off first base,” he said. “You can’t say that you can’t have wind turbines. You cannot say that. They didn’t say that in their ordinance – they just put in comments that make it so restrictive.”
Johansen specifically cited the following concerns with Pine Township’s draft wind ordinance:
• Turbine height limit of 350 feet.
• Sound limits of 40 dB(A) Leq 1 second or 50 dB(C) Leq 1 second at any time on a non-participating property.
• Setbacks of either 1,750 feet or three times the tip height (whichever is greater).
• No shadow flicker.
• Security fencing (Johansen said while this may not be restrictive, he believes it goes against farmland protection goals).
• Decommissioning and construction (Johansen was specifically concerned about a 10-foot burial below the surface requirement and a removable requirement, both of which he said are “punitive in nature and serve no practical purpose”).
• Setbacks from bodies of water, including wetlands (Johansen said this is “highly restrictive and all but guarantees that there is probably no feasible location in the township for a location of a turbine”).
Mark, who lives in Pine Township, noted that much of the proposed ordinance language was in response to the results of a survey mailed out to the township last summer.
“That doesn’t mean the people who are writing this document take that survey and put it into this document,” Johansen responded. “They have to know what the Enabling Act says, we have to know what the Enabling Act says.”
“You can’t write a restrictive ordinance,” Scott agreed. “That’s in the Enabling Act.”
“What ordinance isn’t restrictive?” Mark countered.
“You’re right, Chris, every ordinance is restrictive to a point,” Scott said. “But most ordinances do not completely eliminate the opportunity for somebody to do something.”
“If we tell the (Pine Township) board that it doesn’t meet the Zoning Enabling Act, I think that’s going to have an impact,” Mark responded. “I don’t think it’s so cut and dry that it doesn’t, myself. There’s a whole legal team (a Foster Swift attorney working for Pine Township) that was put together that says it does.”
“There is a large part of this state – townships, cities, villages, some counties maybe – that do not follow the Zoning Enabling Act, unfortunately,” Scott noted.
“I don’t think that it’s so cut and dried for us to say that it doesn’t or to tell them that it doesn’t,” Mark repeated.
“Maybe their attorney thinks it does,” Scott said. “We’ve read something that says it doesn’t. So this is something to charge them with – to go back and see if it does meet (legal zoning requirements) or doesn’t.”
“I am in favor of questioning it,” Mark agreed.
Christensen, the vice chairman of the Pine Township Planning Commission, was one of several township residents to speak during public comment. He held up an Apex Clean Energy binder, calling it “the playbook for Apex,” and quoted from it: “It is likely that some land uses cannot be reasonably accommodated in every local unit of government in Michigan. A local unit of government with concerns about excluding a specific land use in the presence of a demonstrated need, or severely limiting the extent or scale of the land use, should consult an experienced municipal attorney to better understand potential consequences.”
“We had one with us every step of the way,” said Christensen referring to the township’s attorney from Foster Swift. “I believe that the experience of that law firm more than covers us in what we did.”
Christensen also referenced a Feb. 9 letter sent by Apex’s Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard to Pine Township.
“What I get out of this is they pretty much want to write our ordinance for us,” Christensen said. “That ain’t happening. We do not have to write it to suit their needs, wants, whatever. There are turbines out there that will fit at 350-foot – they just choose not to use them, so that is on them.
“It’s a big profit grab that Apex wants and I don’t see any sense in it,” he added.
In other matters …
During Monday’s meeting the Montcalm County Planning Commission also:
• Scheduled training sessions for the evenings of April 21 and May 19 for any interested planning commissioners/township officials in Montcalm County. The April 21 session will review the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act and the duties of planning commissioners. The May 19 session may cover the topic of farmers and agricultural in a warming climate, depending on if experts are available from Michigan State University Extension. Anyone interested in attending either one of these sessions can call Montcalm County Administrative Aide Michelle Becker at (989) 831-7447 for more information.
• Scheduled a special Montcalm County Planning Commission meeting for 3:30 p.m. on April 18 to review/update the county’s general plan. The general plan doesn’t cover zoning, but lays out an overall vision for Montcalm County.
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