Sanilac County News

Watertown continues to study solar ordinance

The Watertown Township Planning Commission met on March 18, with a large audience in attendance, for a public hearing on a proposed moratorium on solar systems. Photo by Eric Levine

The Watertown Township Planning Commission met on March 18, with a large audience in attendance, for a public hearing on a proposed moratorium on solar systems. Photo by Eric Levine

WATERTOWN TWP. — The Watertown Township Hall was filled with visitors Thursday evening for the planning commission’s public hearing regarding a proposed moratorium on solar farm systems.

Although a deputy sheriff was in attendance to keep order, if needed, there were no incidents and only a few people addressed the commission during public comments.

Watertown has been working on its solar systems ordinance for more than a year, prompted by a potential development that could cover 600 acres.

A moratorium on large solar developments that was adopted in May 2020 while the township studied new zoning rules, expired about three months ago without a replacement of the existing ordinance.

At the March 18 hearing, the planning commission recommended a six-month moratorium on the “establishment, placement, construction, and/or enlargement of Solar Energy Systems with the Township and on the issuance of any and all permits, licenses, and approvals for any property subject to the… Township’s Zoning Ordnance for… Solar Energy Systems.”

The recommendation has been sent to the township board of trustees where approval is expected.

In the meantime, planning commission members will resume work on the ordinance addressing issues such as setbacks from boundary lines, greenbelts, height, noise, glare, fees, decommissioning of systems, and inspections and enforcement.

Property owner Chris Powell told the planning commission he considers large solar farms an “eyesore, I don’t like them,” but that he also understands why others would want them because leasing land for solar projects is a financial gain.

“I don’t get a check from them (developers),” said Powell.

He urged the planning commission to “do what’s best for the community” regarding an ordinance because residents will “live with them (solar systems) for a long time.”

Jim Pomillo, a representative of Samsung that wants to construct a large solar project in the township, said the company has talked to the county road commission and drain commission as well as state agencies in order to be in compliance with requirements.

Pomillo also said while Samsung agrees with the township’s current ordinance, including the 125-foot setback, it would “modify” its project for changes in the zoning.

Local farmer Ken Landsburg said Samsung is working with him on turning more than a hundred acres of his property into a conservation park that would be open to the public.

Pomillo announced that Samsung will hold an open house on Wednesday, March 24 (today), from 4-7 p.m. at the Sandusky City Airport to discuss solar systems.

The planning commission will meet the third Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. for the next six months working on the new ordinance.

County Planning Commission

Meanwhile, the Sanilac County Planning Commission wants to assist local governments with their zoning ordinances for large solar projects.

“Over the past few weeks there has been substantial discussion regarding an increase in activity by developers of utility-scale wind and solar energy facilities within Sanilac County,” said District 1 County Commissioner Jon Block, a member of the county planning commission, in an email to the News.

“Knowing how contentious utility scale development can be, the Sanilac County Planning Commission has taken a proactive approach to reach out to all local municipalities. The message we intend to send is simply to make sure everyone is aware of the possibility that development may come to their communities and to be properly prepared.”

Block said, “The Michigan Planning Enabling Act 33 of 2008 provides Townships, cities, and villages in Michigan the full ability to set zoning restrictions to protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents as well as to preserve the character of their community. It is the local planning commission that is charged with the responsibility to set forth adequate restrictions on developers as the local community sees fit.

“The County Planning Commission can provide support and resources to local planning boards if they so request, while maintaining our role as an advisory body. There are certainly opportunities for this type of development however due to the contentious nature of them we want everyone to be informed and prepared.,” said Block.