The vote to approve the permit was three in favor with two opposed. The votes in opposition of approval were cast by trustee Andy Barnhart and Supervisor Jon Burrell.
Those voting in favor of approval were Claudia Mesarosh, Dena Berger and Ron Parker.
Early in the meeting, during the public comments period, the Board of Trustees received a small number of comments, on the issue of the application for the Conditional Use permit.
Gregory Green recommended that the Board of Trustees deny the application based on the fact that, under the terms of the Reading Township Zoning Ordinance, that the Board lacked the authority to grant this particular permit. He noted that “In the Reading Township Zoning Ordinance it clearly states that the Township Board may grant conditional use permits for all conditional uses specified in the various district provisions of the Ordinance. It is clear that a MET tower is not listed among the 16 conditional uses specified in Section 4.03 Conditional Uses of the Agricultural District“.
Mr. Green’s letter to the Supervisor and the Trustees, which was presented at the meeting is reproduced at the end of this post.
Carrie Zietes, a representative of the applicants, James and Justine Galloway, noted that the application for the permit was “simply speaking, merely a preliminary step to any sort of wind development”. Further, she gave a brief history of the applicants pursuit of approval for the MET tower. Including the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) denial of a variance request and referral to the Planning Commission and the subsequent Planning Commission vote to recommend approval of the Conditional Use permit.
Planning Commissioner, Lee Tonnies, who cast the lone no vote for recommending approval of the Conditional Use permit at the Planning Commission level, recommended denial of the permit at this time and urged the Board to direct the Planning Commission amend the Zoning Ordinance to include a Met tower and add the provision required as a Conditional Use. She noted that the Zoning Ordinance is the binding document and must be amended. She urged the Board to do this right.
Later in the meeting, during the work session closed to public comment, the Supervisor reviewed the history of the applicants pursuit of approval for the MET tower. He noted that he had contacted the township attorney and that the attorney was unable to be present at the meeting. The Supervisor stated that it was the attorney’s opinion that the ZBA had handed off the authority to interpret the Zoning Ordinance, to the Planning Commission.
A discussion concerning the site plan, mainly focused on setback followed.
Trustee Barnhart asked if the attorney’s opinion referred to the process or whether “our Ordinance is correct”. He was informed that the attorney’s opinion referred to the process. Trustee Barnhart asked again if the attorney was asked “If our ordinance is correct … under section 4.03 that a MET tower has not been listed”? Supervisor Burrell stated “I asked him and I don’t think I completely understood his answer”.
A brief discussion concerning other past and existing towers ensued.
Next, a lengthy discussion concerning how to address the issue of a MET tower not being listed in the Zoning Ordinance was conducted. Treasure Mesarosh wanted to include a directive to the Planning Commission within the motion to approve a Permit. Trustee Barnhart stated that he supported the applicants right to erect a tower, however a MET tower should be included in the Ordinance before the Permit could be approved. He expressed disappointment with the lack of a clear legal opinion and felt that the MET tower should have been in the Ordinance all along When Trustee Parker was asked for his opinion he stated “Can’t say it in public”. Clerk Berger felt that attorney’s opinion allowed the permit to be approved prior to amending the Ordinance.
A motion was moved by Clerk Berger and seconded by Treasure Mesarosh to grant the Conditional Use permit for a 195 foot Metrological (MET) tower in the Agricultural zoning district of Reading Township. As noted the motion was approved 3-2.
The Board then voted to direct the Planning Commission to develop a text amendment to the Zoning Ordinance allowing MET towers and other towers over 80 feet as a conditional use. The motion was approved 5-0.
Greg Green presented the following letter to the Trustees:
Mr. Supervisor, Trustees,
Tonight, you will consider an application for a Conditional use permit for a 195 foot Metrological (MET) tower in the Agricultural zoning district of the Township.
The Township Board must deny this application.
The overriding reason to deny this requested permit is that under the terms of the Reading Township Zoning Ordinance the Board lacks the authority to grant this particular permit.
In “SECTION 13.02 – AUTHORITY TO GRANT PERMITS” of the Reading Township Zoning Ordinance it clearly states that the Township Board may grant conditional use permits “for all conditional uses specified in the various district provisions of the Ordinance“.
It is clear that a MET tower is not listed among the 16 conditional uses specified in Section 4.03 Conditional Uses of the Agricultural District.
The Zoning Ordinances of some Michigan Townships do specify a MET tower as an allowed Conditional Use in an Agricultural District; the Reading Township Ordinance does not so specify.
In the ordinance of a least one Township, the Wind Farm section does allow for a separate Conditional Use permit for a MET Tower. The Large Scale Wind Energy section of the Reading Township Ordinance does not allow for a separate conditional use permit for a MET tower.
The Michigan Township Association notes that the exception to allowing only specified conditional uses, is if in the Ordinance, a similar use is allowed as a Permitted or Conditional use; the Reading Township Ordinance does not have an allowed use similar to the requested MET tower.
At some point, the Board of Trustees may chose to direct the Planning Commission to review the development of a text amendment to Section 4.03 Conditional Uses of the Agricultural District. Such an amendment would be required to include conditions of design, operation, and safeguards appropriate to a MET Tower.
It is clear, in this case, that the members of the Reading Township Board of Trustees must fulfill their oath of office, their duty to the community and the provisions of the Reading Township Zoning Ordinance, and deny the pending application for this Conditional Use Permit .
Until a MET tower is specified as a conditional use and the appropriate provisions are included in the Reading Township Zoning Ordinance the application for this Conditional Use Permit must be denied.
Full text of the Reading Township Zoning Ordinance:
SECTION 13.02 – AUTHORITY TO GRANT PERMITS
The Township Board may grant conditional use permits, subject to such conditions of design, operation, and safeguards as the Township Board may determine for all conditional uses specified in the various district provisions of this Ordinance.