Allen County could see more restrictions for large solar panel projects

stop solar parks sign
stop solar parks sign(WPTA)
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 5:40 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - Jefferson Township in Southeast Allen County is the proposed site of a solar project that is causing uproar in the county.

Judy Gerardot is part of a group of Allen County residents against large, ground-mounted solar projects, saying she wants to protect their farm land and their way of

“They like our community as it is. They don’t want an industrial park across from them. They don’t want fences with barbed wire and weeds, and hazard materials out there. We like our nature,” Gerardot says.

The group of citizens got a victory today at the Allen County Plan Commission meeting. They voted six to one to approve an amendment for solar panel use in Allen County.

County councilman and plan commission member Paul Lagemann says there’s currently very little specific criteria for the use and installation of solar panels, saying “It is , kind of, a wild wild west situation. What we need to do is we need to move as quickly as we can on a clear ordinance, with clear guidance and clear rules.”

The amendment will still allow special use, small-scale solar panels, like for your home, but now the arrays cannot exceed 500 solar panels, cannot take up 20,000 square feet and cannot be on a separate plot of land. Lagemann says, “If it is separate from the facility, it will limit it.”

If a solar project is outside of those limits, special use from the board of zoning appeal would be necessary, which Lagemann says had stricter criteria, but could still allow projects like this.

“The BZA could say, for instance, that particular section of farm ground wasn’t as productive as other farm ground and it makes it not usable for crops because of the potential profitability. This is more profitable and the BZA could approve it,” Lagemann explained.

There are five criteria that needs to be met for the Board of Zoning Appeals to approve a large-scale solar project. Those are

1. Has to be compatible with the surrounding area

2. It cant effect the use and value of the surrounding area

3. There has to be a peculiar condition rising from the real estate for the variance.

4. There has to be an unnecessary hardship caused by the zoning ordinance.

5. It can’t substantially interfere with the comprehensive plan.

In these criteria, Lagemann says, is where there’s still some subjectivity for BZA members interpret.

For Gerardot, she says the vote is just one step towards her ultimate goal, but the fight isn’t over yet, as this amendment will go to the Allen County Commissioners for a final vote later this year

“We’ve got to work on the commissioners, hopefully they see the community’s value of their property out here,” She said.

Lagemann also filed a motion in the meeting to have the Department of Planning Services create clear definitions about how and where solar panels can be used in the county, including how far they could be set back, irrigation, etc... something the current ordinances and the amendment voted on today currently do not address.