WINFIELD TOWNSHIP – On Thursday evening, the Winfield Township Board voted to schedule a public hearing for a proposed wind energy ordinance, even as a solar energy ordinance remains in question.
On Friday morning, a township resident filed recall language petitions against the entire township board.
The township board voted 3-2 on Thursday to hold a Planning Commission public hearing on the topic of a proposed wind ordinance at 7 p.m. on April 11 at Crossroads Worship Center north of Howard City. Supervisor Phyllis Larson and trustees John Black and Steve Cole voted “yes” while Clerk Colleen Stebbins and Treasurer Cathy Killinger voted “no.”
Stebbins and Killinger told the Daily News after the meeting that they voted no due to concerns with the township paying the church to hold Planning Commission meetings there (the church can hold many more people than the small township hall).
The township board previously voted in February to pay the church $100 per meeting dating back to October 2020 and for all future meetings. However, concerns were raised among township officials after this vote.
“As a public governmental agency we’re not allowed to just give money to a religious organization,” Killinger told the Daily News. “My feeling is if we’re now thinking we should pay them, we should meet right here – we have a hall and if it’s not big enough to accommodate, then we need to build a bigger hall.”
“You’re not supposed to mix government with church, period,” Stebbins added. “We want to be legal.”
Larson told the Daily News that the township has asked the church to send them a bill for use of the meeting space so that it’s not considered a donation.
“But we don’t want to keep on paying out money,” Killinger noted. “We have a hall. If it’s not big enough, we need another hall.”
Thursday’s meeting was the township board’s first night meeting since last October; and while extra chairs were set up, only 16 people attended and only three township residents spoke.
“If you guys don’t come up with a safe ordinance it’s going to go to a referendum and it’s going to go on and on,” township resident Kevin Murphy said. “We’re not tired of this – we’re sick and tired. It’s going to happen. You know that.”
“Your comments need to go to the Planning Commission first,” Larson noted.
“We’ve been commenting to the Planning Commission, people have been for over a year,” responded former planning commissioner Julia Potratz. “What’s the point of a public hearing? Nobody’s listening. You’re not listening. You’re wasting our time.”
“Go to the public hearing,” Larson reiterated. “We’re not going to say anything until it comes to us.”
The draft wind ordinance does not place a limit on turbine height. Setbacks are set at two times a tip height from non-participating dwellings and 1.5 times a tip height or 1,320 feet from non-participating property lines (whichever is greater) and 1.1 times a tip height from roads. Sound is limited to 45 decibels from habitable structures.
The draft also proposes an overlay district, limiting turbines around Indian Lake to east of Bailey Road, north of Yankee Road and south of Deaner Road (meaning setbacks will range from half a mile to three miles depending on where one resides on the lake), while turbines would be setback half a mile from the water’s edge of Winfield Lake and Krampe Lake.
On Friday morning, Dave Meyers of Winfield Township, who was present at Thursday evening’s meeting, filed recall language petitions against all five township board members.
According to Montcalm County Clerk Kristen Millard, the recall clarity hearing before the Montcalm County Election Commission will take place on March 23 – the same day a second recall clarity hearing is scheduled for four members of the Douglass Township Board (also related to that township’s wind ordinance). The March 23 hearing will start at 11 a.m. with the Douglass Township petitions considered first, and then the Winfield Township petitions.
The proposed recall language is the same for Larson, Stebbins, Killinger and Cole, all related to their vote last November to approve a solar ordinance (Black was absent from that meeting).
The first proposed recall language states: “On Nov. 4, 2021 … (Larson, Stebbins, Killinger and Cole) voted to approve Ordinance No. 11-4-21, an amendment to the Winfield Township Zoning Ordinance that purported to regulate solar energy systems. Ordinance No. 11-4-21 included language in Section 5.03(N) authorizing the use of a ‘wind energy facility or wind energy conversion facility (WCES)’ in the ag district, but contained no applicable regulations for such facilities.”
The second proposed recall language states: “On Nov. 4, 2021 … (Larson, Stebbins, Killinger and Cole) voted to approve Ordinance No. 11-4-21, an amendment to the Winfield Township Zoning Ordinance that purported to regulate solar energy systems. Ordinance No. 11-4-21 included language in Section 5.03(N) authorizing the use of a ‘wind energy facility or wind energy conversion facility (WCES)’ in the ag district, but contained no applicable regulations for such facilities. If this issue had not been discovered by Winfield Township residents after a published Notice of Adoption of Ordinance No. 11-4-21, it could have allowed utility scale wind energy facilities to be developed without published regulations for setbacks, noise limits or height limits.”
The proposed recall language is different for Black, who is also a member of the township’s Planning Commission.
The first proposed recall language states: “On Dec. 9, 2021, Winfield Township Board Trustee John Black voted to approve Ordinance No. 12-9-21, an amendment to the Winfield Township Zoning Ordinance that purposed to regulate solar energy systems.”
The first proposed recall language states: “On Dec. 9, 2021, Winfield Township Board Trustee John Black voted to approve Ordinance No. 12-9-21, an amendment to the Winfield Township Zoning Ordinance that purposed to regulate solar energy systems. Such action created a zoning ordinance amendment regulating solar energy systems that does not provide sufficient protections for the health, safety and welfare of Winfield Township residents.”
Also during Thursday’s township board meeting, former planning commissioner Potratz asked for an update about the township’s pending solar ordinance referendum.
“I haven’t heard back from (attorney) Kyle (O’Meara),” Larson responded. “He hasn’t gotten an opinion from the other attorney, as far as I’ve heard. Another attorney in the (Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes) law firm is going over them (signatures and language) that deals with election procedures and that sort of thing because we don’t know all the rules.”
“An attorney has to OK the language,” Stebbins added.
Township resident Tricia Korhorn filed a notice of intent last November to referendum the township’s recently approved solar ordinance. The township board in response voted in December to “correct” the ordinance wording – something Korhorn says they can’t legally do.
In order to preserve her rights, Korhorn filed a second notice of intent in December to referendum the “corrected” ordinance. The notice of intent requested that the ordinance referendum “be placed on the ballot at the next regular election,” which would be May 2022.
Korhorn brought 288 signatures to January’s township board meeting and gave them to Stebbins for Korhorn’s second notice of intent, meaning Korhorn filed before the state of Michigan’s Jan. 25 deadline for the ordinance to appear on the May ballot. However, the township has not yet submitted referendum language to the Montcalm County Clerk’s Office.
State law does not specify how much time a township clerk has to verify referendum signatures. The deadline to make the May ballot has passed, meaning the soonest the solar referendum can be voted on is now August.
Since the solar ordinance is undergoing a referendum, this means the township currently doesn’t have a solar ordinance; nor has the township board enacted a solar moratorium while the issue remains in dispute.
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