Controversial solar farm approved

October 11, 2018

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee County Board on Tuesday approved a solar farm near Momence over the objections of neighbors, the city and the local township.

Both Momence and Momence Township urged the county to reject the proposed solar farm northeast of town. The city said a solar farm would sacrifice an opportunity for future development, while neighbors and the township feared the project would reduce nearby property values.

The county’s zoning board twice recommended approving the project, proposed by Wisconsin-based SunVest. At one zoning meeting, more than 50 people attended, many of whom opposed the project.

SunVest said it planned to use only about a third of a 50-acre property for thousands of solar panels.

The solar farm will be at the southeast corner of Vincennes Trail and East 4000N Road, about two-thirds of a mile from Momence.

Delbert Skimerhorn, the county’s zoning official, said the county’s and city’s long-term plans for growth called for the land in question to be agricultural, although it had been zoned residential since 1967.

Resident Christine Doud, who lives nearby, was among the residents who cited the property value argument. She also said it would remove valuable farmland from production.

“It will take enjoyment from my living. I’m standing here and speaking for neighbors who couldn’t make it,” Doud said.

The county’s plan, Skimerhorn said, concluded the county board designated far too much area as residential decades ago. The plan identified a number of areas, including northeast of Momence, as places that should change to agricultural zones.

The city’s plan assumed a south suburban airport would be built, creating growth in the area.

“We all know that did not happen,” Skimerhorn said.

He added the property in question was not contiguous to existing development within the city.

“Oh, bull!” a woman in the audience shot back, then said she was sorry after realizing she spoke out of turn.

County officials noted the Momence City Council never acted to change its long-term plan northeast of town even as the county considered a solar farm there.

“Momence’s objection says they want this area for residential growth, but their plan does not reflect that,” Skimerhorn said.

The county board voted 22-1 for rezoning from residential to agricultural the property proposed for the solar farm. Member Roger Hess, R-Momence, abstained from the vote. He said he made that decision on the advice of legal counsel because he “personally knows” the property owners. His district includes the land in question.

The board then voted 16-7 to grant SunVest a special use permit to build a solar farm on the property.

Four members were absent.

By the votes

The county board voted 16-7 for a special-use permit for a solar farm northeast of Momence:

Yes: Jim Byrne, R; Stephen Einfeldt, R; Ray Fairfield, R; Jackie Haas, R; Ron Kinzinger, R; Stephen Liehr, R; Mike Mulcahy, R; Bill Olthoff, R; Tinker Parker, R; Samuel Payton, D; Janis Peters, R; Shane Ritter, R; Todd Sirois, R; George Washington, D; Carol Webber, R; Andy Wheeler, R

No: Elisabeth Dunbar, D; Sally Evans, R; Michael LaGesse, D; Patricia Polk, D; Robert Ellington-Snipes, D; Jim Vickery, R; Michael Zenz, R

Abstain: Roger Hess, R

Absent: Michael Hildebrand, R; Jim Stauffenberg, R; Chris Tholen, R; Jim Tripp, R

Update hourly