March 21, 2022

County commission ready to update Master Plan

Don Reid | The Daily Reporter | March 21, 2022 |

The 2021 Branch County Master Plan is ready for county commission approval Thursday with three minor tweaks. The first plan was written in 1974, last updated in 1993.

The impetus for the update came in 2019. Concerns Citizens of Branch County asked county commissioners to adopt a countywide wind turbine ordinance. Since then, concerns have turned to large solar farms.

The public hearing last Thursday saw little comment. Consultant Patrick Hudson, who retired from the Southcentral Michigan Planning Council, was asked by Planning Commission Chair Debbie Lounds-Bowers to include model solar and wind ordinances for township consideration on the county website.

“Our county planning commission doesn’t enforce zoning,” said Lounds-Bowers. “We don’t have the countywide zoning. We talked about it. And it just wasn’t practical for us at this time.”

Hudson pointed out only more populated, more metropolitan, less rural counties have countywide zoning.

“You’re not ready for that kind of a thing, if ever,” he said.

Hudson said townships “should seek the assistance of the professional planner and the community’s attorney to modify the model ordinance to obtain an enforceable ordinance. I really highly recommend that.”

A Master Plan goal for the large agriculture areas of Branch County is to “Develop definite criteria for the designation of the most productive farmlands in the county and take steps to encourage long-term commitments to agricultural activities.”

One written, public comment asked for consideration for control of large commercial animal farms. A goal of the plan is to “Encourage intensive livestock operations and similar activities to locate away from residential areas. Also provide for the protection, of those operations that cooperate, from the encroachment of residential uses.”

Hudson said counties have little control.

“It is highly regulated by the Michigan Department of Agricultural and Rural Development.”

That supersedes local regulation.

The plan addresses residential needs “to occur in a controlled, orderly manner that will provide for residential living, yet will not overdevelop lake areas.”

The county should prohibit residential development in flood-prone areas and regulate residential development in natural areas which would be severely damaged by uncontrolled growth.

It also calls for intensive high-density residential be built only with central water and sewer.

The master plan suggested the county discourage “residential strip development along major transportation arteries and to discourage extensive single lot residential development in areas of high agricultural activity.”

Hudson said the state and “Michigan State University’s put out this planning and zoning guide for farms that suggests that non-farm single-family homes should not be allowed in an agricultural district. But I don’t know of anybody that was a taker on that one.”

One to five-acre homesites are carved from farmland in Branch and other counties. Hudson said this is an issue where solar farms are leasing agricultural land.

Some township ordinances require 1,000-foot setbacks from solar panels or an agreement with solar owners to pay nearby homeowners with solar panels.

The 42-page document outlines what is here in Branch County. It also sets objectives and goals for residential, agriculture, commercial, industrial, recreational and open space, utilities, and community facilities development,

The plan adopts Sheriff John Pollack’s capital needs program through 2025. He has pushed with county commissioners to replace or add equipment for his current staff of deputies.

URL to article: