Model wind turbine rules recognized

August 14, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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OTTAWA COUNTY — A model wind turbine ordinance developed by the Ottawa County Planning Commission for use by townships has won an award for Ottawa County from the National Association of Counties in Washington, D.C.

It was one of two 2009 NACo Achievement Awards for Ottawa County planning projects, the other being for the county's Urban Smart Growth Demonstration Project in Hudsonville.

With wind turbines popping up all over the American landscape and local officials racing to enact zoning ordinances restricting them, the Ottawa County planning commission decided last year to draft a model ordinance that would take into account all sizes and types of  the turbines. NACo noticed the model ordinance that was put on the Ottawa County Web site early this year because it apparently is one of the first in the nation to provide specific zoning standards for small, medium and large turbines.

Mark Knudsen, director of planning for Ottawa County, said last fall that "most of the ordinances that are being adopted at this point in time have a one-size-fits-all approach" —with the largest wind turbines in mind. The effect has been ordinance language that tends to discourage individuals and businesses from installing small and medium-size turbines that don't entail nearly as many controversial issues as utility-grade turbines.

Knudsen said the Ottawa County planning commission would rather encourage renewable energy than see it discouraged by heavy-handed zoning ordinances. The county’s model ordinance has been used as a reference by several townships and municipalities in Michigan that have drafted ordinances.

"I know of four that have adopted ordinances that are similar to our model," said Knudsen: Holland, Grand Haven Township, Zeeland Township, and the city of Walker, which is in Kent County. He said he is aware of about 10 other communities looking at the model.

"We've also had calls from different states, where people had downloaded it off the Internet and had questions," said Knudsen. The NACo award, he said, emphasizes that the Ottawa County model ordinance "has generated some national attention."

Knudsen said that there are really four categories of wind turbines now: The newest are the small turbines that can be mounted on a rooftop or side of a building.

"The requirements for each are unique and separate," he said. "When we wrote the (model) ordinance, we were not able to find any model anywhere in the nation that really addressed" any but the largest wind turbines.

Knudsen said in his opinion, in some cases the small turbines and possibly even some medium-sized machines may not even require a special use permit from the local government.

The other NACo award went to the county’s Urban Smart Growth Demonstration Project in Hudsonville because it demonstrates ways an urban community can enhance its vibrancy, livability and aesthetic character by applying innovative planning techniques. The project included an Architectural Design Elements Portfolio and master plan that were developed in harmony as a package. The ADEP is a graphics-based document that uses more than 400 artistic renderings and photographs to explain and illustrate architectural design options for the community’s central business district.

The new downtown master plan that resulted from the project envisions an entirely new downtown area, including realigned streets around a central public green, while effectively maintaining most of the existing city street system and access to adjacent highway and rail corridors.

“We’re proud of these awards because they acknowledge the innovative and results-oriented nature of the projects we strive to implement," said Ottawa County Planning Commission Chair Jim Miedema. "They also acknowledge some of the different ways Ottawa County is working to develop and maintain dynamic, attractive and livable urban and rural areas. We’re honored to receive national recognition for our efforts.”

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