For the second time in three months, Monticello’s planning and zoning board has endorsed a proposed solar farm project at the local middle school.
PZB members on Monday voted unanimously to approve a conditional use permit for a 844-Megawatt, ground-based solar array for the school district.
School officials hope that moving the project further from Ridge Pointe neighbors will now net them city council approval. With the final say, aldermen denied the permit by a 5-1 vote in July after several neighbors testified against a proposal that included solar panels about 260 feet from the closest homes.
In moving the panels onto existing baseball/softball and soccer fields, the developer working with the school has also committed to leveling land south of the school in order to move those fields.
“I believe we have answered a good deal of questions. We’ve gone to over 1,000 feet from property lines,” said Clean Energy Design Group spokesman James Holtzman. “There will be a six-foot fence. We can put vinyl there, we can put trees there.”
He also said about half of the homes along the west side of the property would be out of eyesight of the development. Holtzman felt the remainder would not see much of it due to the grade of land and the new ball fields that would be located between Ridge Pointe and the solar farm.
But the increased distance did not change the minds of Deanelle and Bruce Payne, neighbors who spoke out against the proposal Monday night.
“I assume you’re going to have security lights at night. High voltage, humming transformer and acres of six-foot-high of steel is not acceptable to me within a single family residential zone,” said Deanelle Payne. “And it’s unacceptable at our middle school that our kids will look out their windows and see that.”
Payne felt a better renewable energy plan would be to mount solar panels on rooftops and in parking lot awnings.
Holtzman responded the rooftops and awnings would not generate as much power as the current plan, which is sized to provide 90 percent of the middle school’s power needs for up to 25 years. School officials say that would save about $1.2 million over that time span.
Payne questioned the savings figure, but PZB board member Michael Beem said even half that savings was worth pursuing.
“If the price of delivery of electricity is just cut in half, then we still save half-a-million dollars over 25 years, which is $20,000 a year savings for the taxpayers of this community,” said Beem.
The city council will consider the conditional use permit at its next meeting on Aug. 26, along with four other zoning requests that were approved by the PZB on Monday:
–The rezoning of a 3.23-acre piece of land just east of the middle school to accommodate construction of a 27,000-square-foot indoor sports complex;
–a conditional use permit needed for the Piatt County Animal Shelter to build a new, 3,600-square-foot shelter at 1203 Raymond Rd.;
–a variance to allow property owners at 615 S. Buchanan Street to replace dilapidated steps with a deck and new front entry; and
–a rezoning and variance to allow a property owner at 827 E. Old Route 47 to annex into the city and hook into the sewer system.