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Montgomery County Commissioners Pass First-Ever Zoning Ordinance

Taylor Haggerty

After months of meetings and public hearings, Montgomery County has its first zoning ordinance. County commissioners approved the proposal Monday.

The passage of the ordinance comes after the threat of legal action from a wind energy company hoping to develop in the county. Residents and county officials have been engaged in a heated debate over whether wind energy is a good fit for the area, but the zoning ordinance includes strict regulations that make it almost impossible to construct wind farms.

Commissioner John Frey says that’s because county residents don’t want wind energy, a position reflected in the comprehensive plan.

“We’re going to be just fine without wind energy,” Frey says.

Erin Baker is a senior development manager for Apex Energy, a wind company that has been trying to build in Montgomery County. While Apex was not the company threatening legal action, Baker says this ordinance does put a stop to their plans.

“Not only is this disappointing, but it does have an air of finality to it,” she says.

Baker says Apex doesn’t see a legal path to receiving a zoning variance under the new regulations.

While the ordinance was written to settle debate around proposed wind farms, some county residents argue there needs to be more protection from other developments.

Residents spoke during the public comment period about a requested permit to open a confined feeding operation, or CFO, with about 8,800 hogs near the town of Linden. Many are worried about what a CFO – or its larger counterpart, a CAFO – would do to the community.

Monty Eldridge lives near the site of the proposed hog farm, and arranged a meeting with his community to discuss their options for halting development last week. He spoke at the commissioners’ meeting, asking for a county-wide moratorium on CAFOs.

“We’re not anti-CAFO. We’re saying there’s a place for these things where it’s not going to affect the quality of lives for other people,” Eldridge says.

Eldridge argues the roads near the proposed farm aren’t up to the increased traffic a CAFO would bring, and says he’s concerned about water pollution from the farm.

Currently, the zoning ordinance doesn’t address CAFOs. Commissioner John Frey says county zoning is an ongoing conversation, and new regulations can be added.

“There will be other chapters,” Frey says. “CAFOs are another chapter that we will address.”

Frey says the permit request is handled by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, not county authorities. He says commissioners don’t currently have the power to enact a moratorium on CAFOs.

County Attorney Dan Taylor says the ordinance, which passed 2-1, must be published, recorded and incorporated into county code this week. He says the ordinance will go into effect two weeks after those steps are completed. 

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