Has their stance softened?
Opponents of a potential eastern Howard County wind turbine project packed the Howard County Commissioners meeting this past week. It was the fifth straight commissioners meeting dominated by the white-shirted opponents.
The opponents want county officialsto create larger setback requirements and to require wind turbines to obtain a special exception use permit from the Howard County Board of Zoning Appeals.
The irony here is that the opponents are appealing to two of the individuals responsible for the current setback requirements, and for the fact that in Howard County, you need a special exception permit to build a cell phone tower, but you don’t need one to build a much taller wind turbine.
On May 19, 2009, the Howard County Plan Commission met to consider a proposed wind turbine amendment to the Howard County Zoning Ordinance.
At the meeting, the plan commission voted to change key provisions of the proposed new wind turbine rules, jettisoning a proposal to require a special exception permit, and voting for shorter setback requirements.
Commissioner Tyler Moore, who was on the plan commission at the time, “said he felt he spoke for the Commissioners in saying they would like to see the 1,000 foot setback from residences reduced. He said seeing that reduction considered was a welcome surprise. He felt the process needed to be as smooth as possible. The Special Exception process was probably prohibitive for the land owner as well as the wind energy companies,” the minutes state.
Commissioner Paul Wyman was also at the meeting, to speak in favor of the changes.
According to the minutes, Wyman said “He would like to see the change of the 500 feet and the Special Exception as a requirement. He said Howard County needs to be in the most competitive position possible.”
Several representatives of wind energy companies, as well as individuals and attorneys representing landowners interested in leasing property to the wind companies, were also at the meeting to press for the last-minute changes, which passed unanimously.
Brian Oaks, who was acting as the plan commission’s attorney at the time, also recommended getting rid of the special exception permit requirement, telling the commission members he didn’t think it would hold up in court, if the BZA rejected a special use permit application.
Thursday, Wyman said he hasn’t changed his position on the issue, but is hopeful there may be room for compromise between wind developer E.On Climate & Renewables and the opponents, noting that E.On has proposed setbacks for recent projects which exceed the Howard County zoning requirements.
Wyman also said he was concerned about economic development in 2009, a year when Kokomo was beset by bankruptcies in the auto industry, and unemployment reached 20 percent.
“Our community was looking to diversify, and wind energy was an up-and-coming investment,” he said.