County-wide zoning will take effect later this month after a years-long battle over implementing such a policy for the first time in Montgomery County.
Commissioners adopted an ordinance Monday, voting 2-1 to bring zoning to the unincorporated areas of the county, including the two-mile radius around Crawfordsville’s city limits previously regulated by the city’s own zoning ordinance.
“This has been a long process,” John Frey said during a discussion period amongst commissioners. “When I came in as a commissioner I believed — from talking to other communities that are prospering and moving forward — that what we lacked that they had was a vision and a plan.”
Commissioners adopted a comprehensive plan in April and immediately moved to put zoning into place. The proposed ordinance received no recommendation from the Montgomery County Plan Commission on April 24, but then advanced to county commissioners with a favorable recommendation after last month’s plan commission meeting. Next, a required legal notice of adoption will be published in the Journal Review later this week. The zoning ordinance will take effect 14 days after publication, which county attorney Dan Taylor says will likely be June 26.
Many of those who filled the council chambers in the Crawfordsville City Building for Monday’s meeting still believe commissioners are moving too quickly. Others just want the threat of wind farm development to go away, which they believe will happen under the zoning regulations.
Commissioner Dan Guard voted against adopting the proposed ordinance in just his third meeting as a commissioner. He was appointed April 29 to fill the vacant seat following Phil Bane’s retirement after 14 years.
“I’ve had a very short time to take in all the information that’s been available to me in the five to six weeks that I’ve had,” Guard said. “There’s still a ton of information out there. If the wind and the zoning thing were separate, I would have voted in favor of the zoning because I think that it offers some protections and allows the county to not have a bullseye on its back as far as no zoning. It will offer, I hope, opportunities for business to come here.”
A referendum on whether to adopt zoning has been suggested in recent months, which supporters of the idea hope would be decided by the voters. Commission President Jim Fulwider said it can’t be done, according to the Indiana Attorney General. The county looked into that option three to four years ago, Taylor said, but were told no. State statute specifically describes the process for adopting a zoning ordinance and it doesn’t include a referendum as an option. Secondly, state statute authorizes what subject matters can have a referendum, and zoning doesn’t qualify.
Frey sees the implementation of zoning as a necessary step in following parts of the comprehensive plan.
“This zoning ordinance ties exactly into what the comprehensive plan is and exactly what the people say,” he said. “The biggest controversy here is wind mills.”
Other issues are lingering, though, including undesired development that’s reflected in the comprehensive plan. Amongst those listed with industrial win farms are confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), landfills, junkyards/salvage yards, Section 8 housing, hazardous waste management facilities, adult oriented businesses, heavy polluting industries and waste transfer stations.
Wind energy development is covered in the zoning ordinance with its own chapter full of regulations. Landfills and waste transfer stations fall under special exceptions and require a greater degree of scrutiny with a rigorous process outlined in one section.
“Today it’s wind and you wanted us to fix wind today with no tools,” Frey said. “What’s tomorrow? Well, tomorrow it’s hog barns. Tomorrow’s here and now people want me to stop hog barns.”
Controversy surrounding CAFO’s have been on the rise over the past year, and even more so in recent weeks with projects pending near Linden in northern Montgomery County and another near Ladoga on the county’s south end. Frey said CAFO development will be addressed in a chapter that will later be added to the zoning ordinance.
With the zoning ordinance adopted as it is, wind farm developers feel the future isn’t so bright in Montgomery County anymore.
“I think it comes as no surprise that we are very disappointed by how this process has played out in the community,” said Erin Baker, who is the project developer for Apex Clean Energy. The company’s plans include development in the northwest part of the county.
“Apex has been working in good faith with the county commissioners, landowners, businesses and many others to advance this project for years,” Baker said during public comment. “And now at the 11th hour, you’re changing the rules and pulling the rug out from under us. Approval of this ordinance will kill this project and all projects in Montgomery County moving forward.”
While developers believe the regulations make it impossible to work with, Frey said they still have options.
“There is a pathway for wind energy to come before the board of zoning appeals,” Frey said. “The people would be contacted that are directly affected by that industry and have a say. That’s what should have happened all along. But because we didn’t have any ordinances, it was a free-for-all.”
A summary of the ordinance, information regarding penalties and other details will be outlined in the legal notice the county is require to publish. Information also will be posted on the county website at www.montgomerycounty.in.gov and a hard copy will be available at the building department offices on South Boulevard and at the recorder’s office at the Montgomery County Courthouse.