A controversial zoning change for wind farms has gone through in Stephenson County, but a lawsuit may not be far behind.
In a 12 to 9 vote, the full county board has changed wind turbines from industrial to agricultural zoning, thereby reversing the zoning board's decision from last week.
Neighbors say the board's decision Wednesday night strips them of their first amendment rights. The zoning change means wind companies no longer have to apply for a special use permit and therefor neighbors will no longer have a chance to voice their concerns at a public hearing before a new wind farm is built.
However, there is still a chance the vote will be reversed yet again. Neighbors submitted a petition to the board with around 1,700 signatures opposing the change. A petition with the support of five percent of county residents forces the board to need a three quarters super-majority to approve a change. But board members did not accept the petition as grounds for a super-majority vote Wednesday night because they say right now there is no way to determine exactly how many landowners there are in Stepehnson County and therefore whether 1,700 comes out to five percent. Several board members essentially passed the change tonight assuming neighbors would take the case to court and let a judge and jury sort it out.
"Some did, some didn't. Some probably voted because they felt the change was worthwhile, we've been though the hearing process twice already that wind power is safe in Stephenson County it will be an asset to all the taxpayers in the county," says the county's zoning director Terry Groves.
"We felt that we had a legitimate cause to protest and our petitions were valid. we felt that the number that we turned in was sufficient to cover five percent of about 28 thousand landowners so we'll see how it turns out," counters concerned neighbor Sharon Wise.
If neighbors do decide to sue, it won't be their only case pending against the county. Neighbors already sued opposing the two wind farms the county board approved in November. No construction has begun on the turbines while that suit is pending.
Many neighbors say they will most likely want to sue, but they don't know if they can afford to hire another lawyer and pay for further litigation. We will keep you updated on if any legal action is taken.