DANVILLE — A Vermilion County board committee agreed Thursday night to change the county's wind turbine ordinance by increasing the distance turbines are required to be from a house and increasing the per-turbine permit fee the developers must pay the county.
In the current ordinance, the setback distance from the foundation of a "primary structure," or house, is 1,000 feet, but the county board's executive committee agreed that should be increased to 1,200 feet. The committee also agreed to increase the permit fee from $1,000 per turbine to $3,000, which would be the same as Champaign County's, according to Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon.
The changes still must be approved by the full county board, and the changes would not affect the Invenergy wind farm project, which has already obtained its building permits under the county's existing ordinance. But the changes would affect any future wind farm developments.
Multiple developers have been considering wind farms in Vermilion County, but only Chicago-based Invenergy has acquired the permits from the county and is reasonably close to construction. Invenergy plans to build 104 turbines in west central Vermilion County, but the project also includes 30 turbines in Champaign County. Invenergy is still moving through Champaign County's zoning approval process for that portion of the project.
Rankin-area resident Darrell Cambron attended Thursday night's meeting and has attended many previous board meetings, repeatedly asking board members to reconsider various parts of the ordinance, which regulates some aspects of wind turbine farms in the county. A developer has been considering a wind farm near Cambron's home in the Rankin area but put that project on hold earlier this year.
Because there are a few developers besides Invenergy considering projects in Vermilion, Cambron and his wife, Kim, have continued asking that the county's 1,000-foot setback distance be increased even more than 1,200 feet. The Cambrons have said that a turbine within 1,000 feet of the foundation of their house is too close. They have cited situations in other states where governmental bodies have revisited and increased, for various reasons, their setback distances after wind farms have been in operation for a while. And the Cambrons have suggested that the setback in Vermilion should be from a neighbor's property line, not the foundation of the primary structure on the property.
County board member John Alexander, R-District 6, brought up at Thursday night's meeting whether the county should consider a 1,200-foot setback from any building, not just, as the ordinance states, the "primary structure," which means a house. As currently written, the county's ordinance allows a turbine to be within 1,000 feet of other buildings, like a shed or barn, on a neighbor's property.
But County Attorney Bill Donahue said current setbacks adequately address safety issues and that's why the reference is to a "primary structure" which is where people live, not a barn. Donahue said in the absence of countywide zoning, the county's ordinance can only address safety and building permit issues rather than more aesthetic issues. Seeking farther setbacks from property lines would be drifting more toward aesthetics and a zoning issue, Donahue said.
McMahon said not allowing turbines within 1,200 feet of property lines would take away the rights of property owners leasing their land to turbine companies, because it would take away their right to do as they want with all their land within 1,200-feet of their property lines. McMahon said that Donahue doesn't believe the county has the right to do that without a zoning system in place.
"I think we are trying to stay conservative on not taking away property rights," Donahue said.
The committee also approved leasing the Vermilion County Juvenile Detention Center to the Public Building Commission, shifting local funding of the center from the county's general fund to the property-tax-supported public safety rent fund, which has no tax cap and a healthy reserve, according to McMahon. The county is making the change, because the state has cut its financial assistance to detention centers. And, the committee approved a new lease with the city that would provide city-owned parking spaces for county employees who work downtown. The new lease also gives the city power to fine any county employees who park in certain downtown spaces the city wants reserved for patrons of businesses.