Residents in Montgomery County are concerned they’re being left in the dark when it comes to the future of their community. That was the main message during a meeting of the county’s Area Plan Commission Wednesday evening, which included a public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance.
County commissioners say the zoning ordinance is needed because they’re being threatened with a lawsuit by a wind energy company. Commissioners argue they can’t address some residents’ concerns about wind turbines without a comprehensive plan and zoning in place.
While they passed the county’s first comprehensive plan earlier this month, many residents worry a zoning board would concentrate power in the county.
More than 100 people attended the public hearing. Wind farm opponents wore red, while those in favor of the proposed projects wore blue.
Resident Ben Wilson was one of several who spoke during the public hearing.
“The purpose of zoning is to protect you. My question is, who’s to protect us from the zoning commission?” Wilson asked.
Wilson again spoke out when the commission was preparing to vote. He asked if zoning and wind energy development could be separated, so residents didn’t have to choose one or the other.
Commissioner John Frey says that wasn’t the purpose of the meeting. He says they’re only making a recommendation on the zoning ordinance.
“This is exactly what we’re doing, exactly what the people wanted," Frey said.
The crowd began to boo and object.
“Yes it is,” Frey said. “Yes it is.”
Residents continued to boo him.
People on both sides of the argument complained that the proposed ordinance feels rushed.
Debbie Lough lives in Sugar Creek Township, in the northeastern part of the county. She says no county officials informed them of the ordinance or asked for their input.
“I would like to keep our township voice. And if we have zoning, we won’t have our township voice anymore,” Lough says.
Brock Ervin is a supporter of wind farms in Montgomery County, and stood outside the city building with a sign reading “I heart wind energy” before the meeting. He says he wants wind and zoning to be treated as separate issues, and thinks zoning for the entire county shouldn’t be up to commissioners.
“So we’re going to have two elected officials, one that’s not, and I don’t think this vote belongs to them,” Ervin says.
Plan Commission member Lynn Ringis says she still has a lot of questions about the ordinance; the draft they received at the meeting had been revised just that morning, and it was her first time seeing it.
“You feel like you need to go back and wrap your head around this one more time, and it’s very stressful,” Ringis says.
A vote to recommend the ordinance for passage failed; the commission then voted 7-1 to send the proposed ordinance to the commissioners with no recommendation either supporting or opposing it. County Council President Terry Hockersmith was the only vote against the motion.
Commissioners will discuss the ordinance at their first meeting in May.
The county attorney says if commissioners approve the rule, it will come to the commission again. But if commissioners reject it, the ordinance is dropped.