WAPELLO — Comments presented Tuesday to the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, during a public hearing on proposed solar and renewable energy amendments to the county’s zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan, may lead to fencing and fee changes in the amendments.
The supervisors held the public hearing, the first of possibly three, to consider proposed changes that had been recommended by the Louisa County Planning and Zoning Commission (LCPZC). The LCPZC began looking at the changes after investigations were launched into establishing commercial solar facilities in Louisa County and local officials discovered there were no governing regulations.
The LCPZC finalized its recommendation to the supervisors following its own Aug. 8 public hearing. However, several people who attended the supervisors’ public hearing on Tuesday said the LCPZC changes had not been enough and more were needed.
Michael Vance, Morning Sun, indicated he was opposed to the LCPZC’s recommendations on fencing, setbacks and fee structure.
According to the proposed zoning amendment, any solar farm or garden facility would be required to maintain a security fence that would be at least six feet in height, but no greater than eight feet.
The amendment would also require a 60-foot setback from most public roadways and a 300-foot setback from property lines involving adjoining owners not participating in the solar project. An exception to the 300-foot setback would be allowed in situations where an agreement was reached with the adjoining owner.
Vance called the requirements a “governmental overreach,” explaining the setbacks and fencing were both restrictions that owners of other agricultural property in the county did not face.
He also criticized the amendment’s proposed fee structure, which would assess the cost for a required special use permit based on a facility’s generating capacity. The maximum fee would be capped at $16,000.
LCPZC chair Sherry Humphreys has suggested the fees could be used to support activities of the county’s zoning department and a planned update to the county’s comprehensive plan.
Vance called the proposed fees “exorbitant” and said the proposed use of the revenue amounted to a “slush fund.”
Louisa Development Group (LDG) Executive Director Angela Shipley also urged the supervisors to modify the fee schedule.
Shipley said Iowa law only allows fees that cover actual expenses.
“I have not seen anything what exactly (the fees) are being used for,” she said.
Mike Karagin, the only LCPZC member to attend the public hearing, said the LCPZC had little to guide it in developing the recommendation since there have been few solar facilities developed in Iowa and state officials have not established any guidelines.
“We can’t just say here is a special use permit - go at it. I’m not a fan of regulations either, but there has to be (safeguards). We put a lot of thought into it and a lot of the answers are going to be down the road,” he said.
Following the public hearing, supervisor chair Brad Quigley contacted county attorney Adam Parsons and learned if the supervisors did change the amendment language recommended by the LCPZC, the supervisors would need to start its public hearing process over.
That decision will likely be made at the Sept. 3 board meeting and a following work session where the LCPZC recommendations will be reviewed.
In other action Tuesday, the board:
• Approved several policies related to federal flood aid;
• Approved a fireworks permit for Conesville Event Grounds;
• Learned from county engineer Larry Roehl that repairs on Iowa Highway 92 could be finished later this week, although he did not indicate when the roadway, which has been closed since late May, might reopen.