Morgan County Commissioners Hear Debate Over Zoning Board of Appeals Created in County’s Wind Ordinance

By Benjamin Cox on November 27, 2019 at 1:24pm

The Morgan County Commissioners were met in apparent opposition to a resolution over the creation of a Plans Commission that will be oversight of the Lincoln Land Wind project and other zoning in the county. The commissioners passed the WECS Wind Ordinance this Fall to pave the way for the large wind turbine farm in the southeastern portion of the county. The ordinance called for a plans commission that would be an oversight board for any zoning issues or appeals by citizens in the county.

Mike Woodyard, a rural Morgan County citizen, who has been a vocal property rights advocate since the debate about the wind farm’s placement began more than a year ago disagreed with the current arrangement of the Plans Commission, the Regional Planning Commission, and a separate plans commission. Woodyard claimed, according to Illinois statute, that all 3 boards should be separate. He said he believed it would eliminate conflicts of interest.

Woodyard says that Commissioner Chairman Bradley Zeller shouldn’t participate in selecting the board of appeals because he had recused himself from the original wind ordinance vote because of a stated conflict of interest. He says the appearance of a conflict of interest still applies and that it would be ethical for Zeller to allow another party to select the member of the zoning board.

Chairman Zeller says that the law is passed and he is obliged to follow it, and that as chairman, he will now go about the process of selecting the board. Zeller said he understood that keeping the verbiage of all the boards and their operations was confusing. Zeller noted that he had spoken to Woodyard personally about the matter outside of meetings and commended him for his diligence in reading the ordinances and laws and providing explanations on record.

Dusty Douglas explained the separated functions of having just 2 boards and that it would be good government to have just 1 board presiding over the two functions of plattes, maps, and subdivisions as well as zoning appeals. Douglas also explained that the Regional Planning commission was not a board selected to preside over any wind farming project. “It was never the objective to have the Mayor of Jacksonville, Village President of Meredosia or anyone on the Regional Planning commission to sort through any wind farm project,” he explained. Douglas said that the commissioners were in the process of getting the Regional Planning Commission back up and running again and in compliance. Woodyard had been instrumental in the recent past for vetting the Regional Planning Commission for not being in compliance with the Open Meetings Act for 6 years. Douglas said that the Zoning Board of Appeals had been vetted through the State’s Attorney and 6 Chicago lawyers prior to its implementation.

Douglas says the buffer created by a third board is not obligated to be in existence. Douglas said that many people selected for the board of appeals had been harassed and at least two had resigned due to it. Douglas believed that the current make up of that board has the county’s residents in mind.

A map of the footprint of the wind turbines has been confirmed to be released within the month. Landowners involved in the Lincoln Land Wind Project were able to view placement of turbines at an invite-only dinner at Hamilton’s last week. The map has not been made public yet for any public comment. The release with landowners happened first, according to sources who did not wish to be named, so they could approve placement of equipment on their own land before the map is released and permit requests are issued to the County Commissioner’s Office. Sources say the map that stakeholders have seen of the project will likely change before it is released to the public. The zoning board of appeals will be the body that will oversee any variances once the map is eventually released.