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Commissioners OK zoning change allowing for solar farm

Goshen News|Dani Messick |September 19, 2022
IndianaPhotovoltaic Solar
A zoning change that would allow for a massive solar panel farm in Benton Township was approved Monday by the Elkhart County Commissioners despite mixed reviews from residents. ..Residents of Benton Township specifically, for the most part, were not on board, even with the condition. Elkhart County Farm Bureau President Lynn Loucks said, “Once these people are here, they’re not going to care about the programs in Elkhart County, the youth programs, the 4-H auctions. … If you approve this you will drastically change the landscape of our rural community.”

 GOSHEN — A zoning change that would allow for a massive solar panel farm in Benton Township was approved Monday by the Elkhart County Commissioners despite mixed reviews from residents.
 
The project is headed by Savion, on land owned by Bruce A. Showalter and Steven G. Showalter of Showalter Farms, Inc.; and the Robert Moser & Donna Moser Living Trust. There are about 35 homes near the property that would be affected.
 
The project would consist of several hundred thousand solar panels at about 600 watts each. A fence around the area, along with buffering and a variety of safety precautions are also included to protect against wildlife and fires. Still, Savion declared there would be training for the fire department, but people were still apprehensive due to the fact that Benton is a rural community with a volunteer fire department. The concern was one of many.
 
Cynthia Pergrem, of Syracuse, told the commissioners that he felt solar panels were ineffective green technology, because they take up a lot of land, and also must be disposed of after they’re worn out, increasing the use of landfills. She added that corn and soy production is being taken for solar projects and RV factories. She, along with dozens of others, urged commissioners to vote no.
 
Zoning Administrator & Planning Manager Jason Auvil said the project received a favorable recommendation from the plan commission but included a condition that no energy storage facilities be located on-site. The petition would change the A-1 DUPD to AE-1 for energy.
 
Residents of Benton Township specifically, for the most part, were not on board, even with the condition.
 
Elkhart County Farm Bureau President Lynn Loucks said, “Once these people are here, they’re not goi ... more [truncated due to possible copyright]
     
 GOSHEN — A zoning change that would allow for a massive solar panel farm in Benton Township was approved Monday by the Elkhart County Commissioners despite mixed reviews from residents.
 
The project is headed by Savion, on land owned by Bruce A. Showalter and Steven G. Showalter of Showalter Farms, Inc.; and the Robert Moser & Donna Moser Living Trust. There are about 35 homes near the property that would be affected.
 
The project would consist of several hundred thousand solar panels at about 600 watts each. A fence around the area, along with buffering and a variety of safety precautions are also included to protect against wildlife and fires. Still, Savion declared there would be training for the fire department, but people were still apprehensive due to the fact that Benton is a rural community with a volunteer fire department. The concern was one of many.
 
Cynthia Pergrem, of Syracuse, told the commissioners that he felt solar panels were ineffective green technology, because they take up a lot of land, and also must be disposed of after they’re worn out, increasing the use of landfills. She added that corn and soy production is being taken for solar projects and RV factories. She, along with dozens of others, urged commissioners to vote no.
 
Zoning Administrator & Planning Manager Jason Auvil said the project received a favorable recommendation from the plan commission but included a condition that no energy storage facilities be located on-site. The petition would change the A-1 DUPD to AE-1 for energy.
 
Residents of Benton Township specifically, for the most part, were not on board, even with the condition.
 
Elkhart County Farm Bureau President Lynn Loucks said, “Once these people are here, they’re not going to care about the programs in Elkhart County, the youth programs, the 4-H auctions. … If you approve this you will drastically change the landscape of our rural community.”
 
He suggested that Savion, should provide its own fire service and that no waste products from the panel should go into Elkhart County’s landfill.
 
Nancy Wait, of Elkhart, spoke on behalf of those who don’t live near the area, stating that solar wouldn’t be good for anyone in the county. She accused the promoters and businesses supporting it of taking advantage of the lucrative nature of tax benefits they would receive, having little concern for the towns.
 
Elkhart County Commissioner Brad Rogers asked Development Director at Savion Sara Mills to commit to recycling solar panels and water. Mills indicated that 85% of materials are recyclable and that it is Savion’s intention to recycle them.
 
Still, there were many who supported the project.
 
Brad Hooley, of Goshen, spoke on behalf of the Moser family in favor.
 
“These neighbors need to think about, ‘if this doesn’t happen, what are the other options that might be available for this land?’” he said. “It would be theoretically possible if you didn’t have this green space, you could have six houses there.”
 
The project is represented by Jones Petrie Rafinski, and Kenneth Jones Jr. attended the meeting to further explain that the existing DPUD on the site is associated with an old corn maze that is no longer active and encompasses just over 900 acres in Benton Township.
 
Specifically, the map change would include the “west side of State Road 13 between Long Ditch and County Road 146; south side of County Road 146 between State Road 13 and County Road 43; west side of County Road 43 between County Road 146 and a point 614 feet south of Dry Run Ditch; east side of State Road 13 between County Road 148 and a point 842 feet south of County Road 148; north side of County Road 148 between State Road 13 and a point 1,258 feet west of State Road 13; south side of County Road 146 between State Road 13 and a point 1,622 feet west of State Road 13; north side of County Road 146 between State Road 13 and County Road 137; south side of County Road 46, 1,402 feet west of State Road 13, in Benton Township.”
 
Jones told those in attendance that JPR was unable to find proof of an impact on property values from an energy facility nearby, a major concern of the project. Despite this, Jones said 43% of the property will remain unused, while 1.2 miles will be landscape buffer, per the property owners’ request.
 
The solar farm could come online as early as fall 2024 and help to cover energy usage for 50 to 100 miles from the solar farm project.
 
Commissioner Suzie Weirick said she doesn’t believe solar panels are the most effective, but she also is being asked about solar, and not nuclear. As a result, she feels it’s unfair to tell owners they can’t tell people how to use their land or who to sell it to.
 
“I would like to consider this a property rights issue,” she said. “I’ve never seen an industry come under such scrutiny as solar. … We have multiple chemical manufacturing plants — we do not put them under a fraction of the microscope this group has gone under.”
 
She reiterated that will be no battery storage, and fencing will be a requirement.
 
Commissioner Frank Lucchese said the decision was one of the hardest he made in his 16 years in government.
 
“Elkhart County, our power, 80% is produced outside of our county,” he said. “We have lost opportunities for companies to come here because we can’t supply them the power. … I’ve always leaned toward property rights... There are two property owners, two farmers, that want to do this farming energy production.”
 
Commissioner Rogers didn’t agree with his colleagues. He wanted specifics about emergency response plans, even down to Savion maybe providing its own emergency response department. Recycling was also a concern for Rogers.
 
The commissioners did agree to approve the zoning change pending conditions agreement of no energy storage, setbacks, an emergency response plan, an operation and management plan, decommission agreement, and a road use agreement. Rogers retained his stance, voting against the plan.
 
Following approval of the zoning change, commissioners also approved the Economic Development Agreement slated for the project. The EDA was originally approved by Elkhart County Council nearly a year ago and indicates the project be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2025, with a five-year tax phase-in for personal property and a three-year tax phase-in for real estate, with $831,780 to be paid to the county within two years after the project is completed.
 
The agreement also has a provision to protect taxing entities, obligating the owner to pay for any loss in tax revenue to nearby properties and several other safeguards for the county and for landowners including stating that the landfill doesn’t have to accept waste.
 
Rogers wanted to take it a step farther and require Savion to recycle, but his fellow commissioners stated that they should allow future commissioners to make the decision. Rogers, again, did not vote in favor of the solar project for the Economic Development Agreement.
 
Other items addressed by the commissioners Monday include:
 
• Jennifer Tobey of Elkhart County Emergency Management requested from the commissioners on behalf of Bristol Fire, permission to close Executive Drive at C.R. 104 and C.R. 19 Sept. 26-28 for emergency vehicle use only. The measure is due to an open hour for Thor Industries, which will be held at the RV Hall of Fame.
 
• The commissioners approved a segment agreement for Surf Internet for Jayco at approximately $200 per month with Elkhart County Fiber.
 
• Commissioners also approved annual funding agreements with the Center for Community Juice and the Council on Aging for $100,000 each.
 
• The Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission acquired a parcel on Old U.S. 20 at Corwin Drive There are two buildings on the property and they wish to demolish one. The measure will free the intersection up for improvements and is being funded through the Northwest Gateway TIF district. It was approved.
 
• The commissioners received bids for the development of an access road between C.R. 17 and C.R. 20, which would make the property, which is currently landlocked, accessible for development. The only bid received was from David J. Meyers and Elizabeth A. Meyers. The bid was for an exchange for real estate they own. The 2.6 acres for 1.3 acres agreement would allow the county the access necessary to develop the road. It was approved unanimously.
 
• The Elkhart River Queen Corp. requested a license for the use of the vacant real estate at Sunset Lane near Six Span Bridge to refurbish engines on the Elkhart River Queen. The license was approved and will be temporary use for about six months including the corporate providing insurance and other liabilities.
 
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Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at dani.messick@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2065.
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