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County rejects solar project

January 10, 2019 GMT

KANKAKEE — Neighbors of a proposed solar farm near Bonfield and Herscher spoke up. The county board listened.

On Tuesday, the board voted 18-7 against the project. It found the solar farm would be “injurious” to nearby residents’ enjoyment of their properties.

Neighbors contend the project would destroy their views of the countryside, while supporters said nearby residents had no right to certain scenery.

With one abstention, the county’s zoning board last month unanimously rejected Lehigh Solar’s application to set up solar panels on 39 acres. A county board committee, however, recommended approval, saying the county already had approved similar projects.

The panels would be along two sides of resident Chris Mitsdarffer’s property. She opposed the project, saying “it’s all about greed.”

“I raised my family there. I don’t want solar panels to surround my property and my view,” she said.

Another resident, Chad Scanlon, said he, too, was against the solar farm.

“The zoning board of appeals got it right,” said Scanlon, who also is Herscher’s police chief. “My point of view is that anyone in my shoes would be where I am standing.”

During the county board discussion, member Carol Webber, R-Herscher, who represents the area in question, said she stood with her constituents in opposing the solar farm. She said the zoning board realized the residents would lose the enjoyment of their property with a nearby solar farm.

Member Elisabeth Dunbar, D-Kankakee, agreed, saying the board should trust the zoning panel. And Robert Ellington-Snipes, D-Kankakee, said that as a farmer, he did not like to remove farmland from production, so he, too, would vote against the project.

But member John Fetherling, R-Manteno, who until November was the zoning board chairman, said he would support the solar farm. The zoning board, he said, has approved other projects in similar circumstances.

“We have to stay consistent with what we do and stick to facts, not opinions,” he said. “When you buy a property in an agricultural community, you aren’t guaranteed a view from your property.”

County board chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, said he generally favored the rights of property owners proposing projects, unless neighbors can document the potential for injury.

“Everyone can make their own judgment. But I hope that judgment is based on facts, not on the way people feel,” Wheeler said.

In recent months, the county’s zoning department has received dozens of requests for solar farms, nearly all of which have been approved.

Under the supervision of the Illinois Power Agency, renewable energy credits will be chosen in a lottery. The state’s application is in mid-January, which is the reason for the surge in applications in Kankakee County, a hotbed for solar industry activity.

State officials say the number of applicants is many times larger than the amount of money available. So it’s likely most of the approved solar farms in Kankakee County will not come to fruition.