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Salem Planning Commission splits on special use permit changes

Salem Planning Commission splits on special use permit changes

Supervisor of Assessments Mark Miller speaks before the Salem Planning Commission during a public hearing Tuesday night on tax base created by commercial solar farms.  Photo by Bruce Kropp.

The Salem Planning Commission has unanimously agreed to a proposed change that would give the city council final say-so over special and temporary use permits.  However, on a 4-3 vote, the commission rejected automatically allowing large commercial solar farm operations in non-urban districts without special use permits.

Planning Commission Chair Rick McCullum asked each of those speaking in favor of removing the need for a special use permit why they would want to take away the opportunity for non-urban district residents to voice their opinion rather than waking up one morning to the construction of a solar farm.

McCullum was joined by commission members Harold Hunziker, Jim Davis and Jim Milano in voting against the change. Those voting yes Brad Heaton, Sandie Phillips, and Kathy Matthews. McCullum noted with the first change the city council can already overrule them.

Salem City Manager Bill Gruen noted in explaining the proposed change that there is now a third solar farm proposal being developed for the Salem area in addition to the ones proposed by Enertech for farmland at South College and Kell and in the Salem west-side Industrial Park.

“Solidifies an attempt the potential to generate additional tax dollars for schools, fire protection districts, Kaskaskia College and Townships.  They also have the potential to ease the tax bills of all other taxpayers within those impacted taxing districts.  And the impact would be meaningful.  To put $680,000 in potential property tax revenue into perspective, that would represent almost 3 NAL’s, 2 Wal-Marts, 37 Applebees, and a little more than 5 Holiday Inn Express Hotels.”

Gruen also said the change was not a huge leap from the zoning code already in place.

Marion County Supervisor of Assessments Mark Miller further explained the tax benefits from the solar farms.

“If a taxing body, let’s say Selmaville School, didn’t ask for any more money next year if they got that extra $8.1 million assessed valuation if you have a $100,000 home you can expect potentially that your property taxes might go down $100 per year.   Just for the Selmaville School.  That’s what this means.  We don’t have very much anymore that is generating a lot of assessed value.  We have very few new homes, start-ups, new home, and business construction so any time we can come up with a project like this it means a lot to everybody.”

And Miller says in his research he has found no negatives.

“My belief is there is no negative to solar farms.  It’s encompassed, there’s no hum, there’s no smell, it is encompassed by a privacy fence, it’s not unattractive.  As I said I did research and in some places, property values increased.”

Two residents who live in a subdivision near the proposed solar farm on South College and Kell again expressed their opposition. One of them, Greg Dye, said he doesn’t feel the large facilities should be located in a residential neighborhood. A number of taxing bodies provided letters of support to allow solar farms.

They included the Marion County Board, Salem Township, and Selmaville Grade School.

The Salem City Council will take up the two proposed zoning code changes at its meeting next Monday.