By Alex Haglund
The Washington County Zoning Board of Appeals met for a special meeting at the Washington County Courthouse on the evening of Thursday, May 3, to discuss a text amendment to the county zoning code regarding commercial solar farms. While there was plenty of discussion at the meeting, ultimately, the board voted to table the amendment.
The board of appeals talked about the various facets of the text amendment, which would begin to codify requirements for solar farms to be built in the county. The broadest requirements of the amendment would have entities defined as “large scale commercial solar farms” be restrict to special use permits on ag-zoned plots, and would have began to lay the groundwork for an application process for those intending to construct these solar farms to follow.
The board of appeals voted to table to the item for the time being to seek more information. Specifically, the board of review requested information regarding solar farm ordinances that supposedly (word of mouth), had been passed in Perry and Randolph Counties.
In addition to that information, the board of review asked for the addition of language to stipulate that a third-party engineering review be conducted as part of the application process, and that language be added to allow legal entry to the land being used for these farms by the county or an agent of the county to be able to assess sites and the processes being conducted at them.
The members of the zoning board of appeals were also asked to get any other recommendations or requests regarding the amendment to county zoning administrator Rick Greten. Greten and Linda Tragesser of Southwest Illinois Planning Commission, and the planning and zoning committee of the Washington County Board (many of the members of which were present at this meeting) will be reviewing and revising the text amendment to return to the zoning board of appeals.
Members of the county board’s zoning committee also mentioned a solar power bill being submitted by State Representative Charlie Meier, as well as several others all heading for reviews or votes – so the situation, both on a state level and a local one, is a fluid one.
There is a lot of potential and interest in solar power both in Washington County and in the state as a whole, so the task set before the zoning board is to make sure that Washington County is able to include itself in what is happening, but at the same time dictate terms that are as locally favorable as they can be.
No matter what happens though, this will be a project where everything happening will be new or mostly new) to everyone involved in it.
“We’ll all be learning this together,” said Greten.