Zoning approved for solar parks

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The Board of Commissioners on Monday approved the zoning of solar parks and facilities in Montgomery County.

The regulations come as solar energy developers eye the county for projects. Among the interested companies is Sugar Creek Wind, which the county says plans to bring in solar arrays after settling a federal lawsuit over a wind farm project.

“We welcome such development, and we are aware of other energy companies that have projects planned in Montgomery County,” the commissioners said in a statement.

Property owners need a permit from the zoning administrator before building, operating or maintaining a solar energy system, farm or facility, according to the zoning ordinance. The systems are restricted to agriculture and industrial zoning districts.

All ground-mounted panels or arrays must be at least 200 feet from the property line of an adjoined residence. That includes single-family homes in agriculture zones that are within 500 feet of the solar facility.

The restrictions do not apply to existing solar parks as well as devices that are part of the structure or yard of a home or business.

As part of another change to the zoning ordinance, commissioners appointed Ashley Adair to a special term on the Plan Commission. Adair represents the county extension office on the board.

A new state law requires the extension representative to be a county resident. Since Adair does not live in Montgomery County, she will be allowed to serve on the Plan Commission until Oct. 1, 2021, when the extension board will nominate a county resident. After that, Adair will be allowed to remain in a nonvoting capacity.

Adair “has been a valued member of the Plan Commission and asks great questions,” county attorney Dan Taylor said.

Commissioners also approved a $7,500 agreement with law firm Barnes & Thornburg to provide legal advice for CARES Act funding.

The county received $1.2 million in federal reimbursement funding that can be used to pay public safety and public health employees responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As you can imagine, it’s got a lot to it. It’s not just here’s a $1.2 million to do what you want,” said Jim Fulwider, president of the Board of Commissioners.

“If we don’t have somebody helping us out that has the knowledge of the whole thing and how it works, then there’s a good chance that we leave some money on the table that we could be using.”

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