Hearings set for solar project, rules

ESCANABA TOWNSHIP — Efforts to adopt official guidelines for solar energy facilities in Escanaba Township are set to continue with an Escanaba Township Planning Commission hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance amendment Monday.

Chandler Solar Project LLC, an affiliate of Orion Renewable Energy Group LLC, submitted an application to Escanaba Township’s zoning administrator and planning commission on July 8 for a special land use approval that would allow for the development of a solar energy farm in the township.

In the application, it was noted that about 1,800 acres of private property in the township have been leased for this purpose. Chandler plans to surround roughly 1,250 acres of land with fencing and to cover about 325 acres of the fenced-in area with solar panels.

Terry Burkhart, the township’s attorney and president and principal of Burkhart, Lewandowski & Miller, P.C., is working with the township on the topic of solar development. Burkhart said work towards adopting legal language related to solar energy facilities in the township began this spring with the approval and adoption of a solar ordinance by the planning commission and township board.

“Without benefit of counsel, they adopted a solar ordinance … that closely followed a Clinton Township solar farm ordinance,” he said.

However, an amendment to Escanaba Township’s zoning ordinance is required for solar development in the area to proceed.

“The solar ordinance was largely turned into a zoning ordinance (amendment) with some minor changes,” Burkhart said.

The proposed zoning ordinance amendment includes minimum solar panel setbacks of 20 feet from side and rear property lines and 50 feet from road right-of-ways and residential lots. Landowners with adjoining property will have the option to waive the setbacks.

The proposed amendment would prohibit noise from solar farms in the township from exceeding 60 dBA as measured at the property line. This does not apply during construction on solar farms. Solar farms must also be located so glare from solar panels is not directed towards or onto nearby properties or roadways at any time of day.

Solar farms would not be allowed in residential zoning districts R-1, R-2 and R-3 under the proposed amendment. Solar farms would be allowed in all other districts of Escanaba Township with approval from the planning commission.

The Escanaba Township Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance amendment at Escanaba Township Hall at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

An Escanaba Township Board hearing on the planning commission’s findings and recommendations is set to be held at the township hall at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 12. According to Burkhart, the township board will be able to reject the proposed amendment, approve it or approve it with conditions at that time.

If the board approves the proposed amendment with or without conditions on Aug. 12, the planning commission will meet at the township hall for a public hearing on Chandler’s application for the special land use approval at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 13.

The application and the proposed amendment to Escanaba Township’s zoning ordinance can be found at www.escanabatownship.org. From the website’s main menu, click “Calendar” and look under “Announcements” to find these documents.