Champaign County Board approves zoning changes for solar farms

Champaign County Board approves zoning changes for solar farms

URBANA — Multiple solar farms are on their way to Champaign County.

On Thursday night, the Champaign County Board voted 19-3 to amend the county zoning ordinance to allow photovoltaic solar farms on certain agricultural properties.

Photovoltaic solar energy is produced by cells that generate electricity when struck by light.

Similar to wind farms, solar farms in Champaign County will be allowed only in AG-1 and AG-2 agricultural zoning districts, and in order to be built, the developer must first obtain a special permit from the board.

"Any solar farm coming into this county will have to abide by these rules," said board member Aaron Esry.

Seven applications to build such farms around the county have already been submitted.

Patrick Brown, a spokesman for Irvine, Calif.-based BayWa r.e., which wants to build a wind farm near Sidney, said he supports the ordinance amendment.

"I think, at the end of the day, it is a good ordinance," Brown said. "I think it is going to be a great tool to inspire industrial development."

Board member Jim McGuire expressed concern about the impact solar farms may have on the value of nearby properties.

But Zoning Administrator John Hall said multiple studies have found solar farms have no significant effect on property values.

"You can't have a solar farm without change," Hall said.

A solar farm public hearing has been scheduled for Aug. 30.

In other business:

The county has three new county board members.

After the board voted unanimously to appoint Jodi Eisenmann to Brooks Marsh's former seat in District 1, Pranjal Vachaspati to Shana Jo Crews' former seat in District 9 and James Quisenberry to Robert King's former seat in District 10, all three took the oath of office from County Clerk Gordy Hulten.

The new board members will serve terms through Nov. 30.

The board also voted to approve a budget amendment appropriating $4,611,946 for the Champaign County Nursing Home to cover expenses until the home's sale to two Evanston-based companies is closed.

And board members voted 13-8, with one abstention, to approve a resolution moving Cunningham 3's polling place from a University of Illinois residence hall currently undergoing renovation to the Illini Union.

"The university should be held accountable to work with us to have more accessible voting," board member Kyle Patterson said.

"The fact that we are talking about this for 600 people seems a little crazy," board member Jim Goss said.

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