Historically the Montcalm County Planning Commission has encouraged townships to preserve the natural beauty and rural character of our community. However, over the past year, commission members have been critical of wind ordinances developed by Sidney, Pine, and Maple Valley townships that were designed to do just that. (See Daily News June 23, 2021, March 9, 2022, and May 5, 2022)
In addition, they have heaped praise on Winfield Township’s draft wind ordinance that would allow wind turbines with no height limit and setbacks of only 1.5 times the turbine’s tip height from non-participating property lines. Under that ordinance, permitted noise levels and shadow flicker would be measured at people’s houses, not their property lines, and thus be allowed to trespass on peoples’ yards and open spaces. It is hard to imagine a more pro-wind ordinance. While the county planners have no actual authority and can only offer advice, they have chosen to align themselves with Apex Clean Energy and a relatively small group of landowners who have leased their properties to Apex.
These county planners have completely forgotten (or have chosen to ignore) the Montcalm County General Plan they adopted in January 2013, when the county planning commission members included current members John M. Johansen, S. Michael Scott, and Lonnie Smith and also former county planner and pro-wind advocate Don Smucker. Here is the link to the plan: cms5.revize.com/revize/montcalm/document_center/Economy and Planning/Demographics/complete_general_plan.pdf
By its terms, the plan encourages townships “to prepare local plans and zoning ordinances consistent with this plan.” Here are some of the values, objectives and goals stated in the plan that townships are expected to follow:
• The most common landscape view in Montcalm County continues to be a mix of farm fields, meadows, wetlands, river and lakeshores, and woods. Rather than succumbing to sprawl and the attendant loss of natural visual character that is occurring throughout the rest of the State, the alluring characteristics that initially attracted residents and businesses to the county have been maintained, and in some cases enhanced.
• The rural landscape does more than simply provide scenery. The benefits of nature to residents’ mental well-being and the attraction for visitors are important.
• New growth and development have occurred in compact form and in locations that retain ample open space throughout the county, reinforcing the scenic visual character rather than detracting from it.
• Objective – Preserve Montcalm County’s unique agricultural sector and promote mutually healthy relationships between farm and non-farm residential neighbors.
• Goal – Preserve Montcalm County’s natural resources and the beauty of its landscape.
• Goal – Maintain the viability of the primary lake residential communities in the county.
Sound familiar? These are the exact same values, objectives and goals that have been voiced by community residents who want safe and protective wind ordinances for our townships. And these are the same values, objectives and goals reflected in the Sidney, Pine, and Maple Valley wind ordinances that county planners have denounced.
So, why would county planners so quickly and easily let go of the principles they encouraged townships to follow only nine years ago? What is it about a small group of Apex leased landowners that justify county planners promoting the irresponsible placement of industrial wind turbines in our townships? Why should those landowners be entitled to wind ordinances that would provide them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in wind lease payments over the next 25 to 30 years? It is certainly not because of their contribution to the costs of local government through the real property taxes they pay. The amount Apex leased landowners pay in property taxes is actually quite small when compared to the property taxes paid by everyone else.
Based on Apex leases recorded through May 5, 2022, these are the percentages of the real estate tax base provided by the Apex leased properties in each of these townships: Cato, 2.2%; Montcalm, 3.1%; Douglass, 3.8%; Pine, 8.2%; Maple Valley, 12.1%; and Winfield, 6.6%.
As a result, Apex leased landowners pay only these percentages of the real property taxes paid by all landowners in each of these townships.
Apex has been signing up leases for more than two years, and this is what they have to show for their efforts. It is certainly possible that Apex has leases that are not yet recorded, and they may acquire additional leases in the future. But for now, these landowners are the only landowners in these townships who have signed and recorded leases as statements of their desires for wind-friendly ordinances—the kind of ordinances the county planners want for all of us.
This means that township property owners who have not signed Apex leases provide between 87% and 97% of the real property tax revenue received by townships and other local units of government in Montcalm County. Yet, these are the people who will get little benefit and all of the burden of having wind turbines in their communities. These are the people the county planners have chosen to disregard.
Why do Montcalm County Planning Commission members consistently support what Apex and a very small group of landowners want, while abandoning the values, objectives and goals they so firmly embraced in their 2013 plan? There is no excuse that is reason enough for the course they have taken. Even Apex’s so-called “investments” in our county will not justify their actions. These county planners have clearly lost their way.
Robert Scott is a retired real estate development lawyer and part-time resident of Sidney Township.
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