WAPELLO — A proposed zoning ordinance amendment that would regulate solar project development and activities in Louisa County is nearing completion. A preliminary version of the amendment was finalized Monday by the Louisa County Planning and Zoning Commission.
The commission met for more than two hours to review sections of the proposal and eventually agreed to send the draft to county attorney Adam Parsons for his examination.
The commission has been meeting since mid-April to develop the amendment, using samples of other local government ordinances, a model ordinance developed by Iowa state officials and other ideas to create Louisa County’s proposal.
Two solar developers are currently investigating Louisa County as the site for solar projects, although only Idaho-based Clenera and its partner CIPCO (Central Iowa Power Cooperative) have officially announced their project.
That 100-megawatt project is proposed to be constructed on more than 800 acres south of Wapello and generate enough energy for 18,000 homes using around 350,000 solar panels.
The Dec. 13, 2018, announcement of the project sent local officials scrambling to update the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance to accommodate the new facility.
At Monday’s meeting the commission put some of the finishing touches to the proposal, including updates to definitions; making final decisions on setbacks, permit fees, special requirements and special use permits; screening; and other issues.
One of the final issues that remained to be completed was managing storm water at any proposed solar site. Commission chair Sherry Humphreys said assistant county engineer Adam Shutt was working to develop a stormwater management plan and once he completed that, she would provide the rest of the commission with the final draft.
“If we’re all in agreement with the stormwater, I’ll fire this off to Adam Parsons to review,” she said.
County supervisor Brad Quigley, who attended the meeting as an observer, suggested he would ask Parsons to expedite his review so the commission could then meet and settle on a public hearing date for the amendment.
Even with a quick review by Parsons, Quigley predicted it would be several weeks before the pubic would have an opportunity to comment at a public hearing.
“We’re looking at five to six weeks,” Quigley said.
After the commission schedules a public hearing and receives public comments on the proposal, it will develop a final draft of the amendment and make a recommendation to the county board of supervisors. The supervisors will eventually make a final decision.
Meanwhile, the commission will also look to incorporate some changes in its rules of procedure as part of any public hearing process. Humphreys presented the commission’s current procedures, which were adopted in 2005, and suggested several changes.
Those included changing its meeting location from only the county courthouse to the courthouse or other county facility. The amended rules would also drop an antiquated executive session provision and add some sections to the commission’s sample agenda.