Chesterton Tribune

Solar farm company sues Porter County BZA over denial

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Valparaiso Solar LLC is taking legal action against the Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals alleging the board’s 4-1 vote to deny its request to construct a solar generating facility in Union Twp. did not abide by state law.

The firm, whose parent company is the Minnesota-based Ecos Renewable Energy, petitioned the BZA in November seeking a use variance for a solar generating facility being eyed for 495 W. CR 450N on a 28-acre piece of land in unincorporated Porter County near Ind. 130. The parcel is zoned Light Industrial in its northern section and Rural Residential in its south.

Plans indicate the company wishes to use about 5,000 solar energy panels at a height of about eight feet. The renewable energy collected and would be sold to residents through NIPSCO. Ecos has also proposed systems in Portage and several locations in Lake County.

According to the suit filed by local real estate attorney Todd Leeth on Feb. 27, the petition was tabled at the initial public hearing on Dec. 21 and denied on Feb. 1 despite having “presented sufficient evidence to establish the application” for a solar energy farm. Part of that evidence is an Indiana law that encourages the construction of solar energy systems and does not give power to local units to restrict the use of such facilities unless for concern of public safety, the suit said.

The suit claims the unfavorable vote resulted from the fact the county’s Unified Development Ordinance does not permit or allow a solar energy system.

Ecos contends in the suit the BZA’s action on Feb.1 was “made in an arbitrary and capricious matter,” and subsequently said the decision is illegal “because it prohibits or unreasonably restricts the use of solar energy systems in Porter County.”

The company pleads in the suit that the court declare the BZA decision invalid and rule that the board grant “all zoning, building and development permits” to the firm as well as compensate all attorney fees.

The suit also names Porter County as a defendant.

BZA members voting on Feb. 1 to deny the request to permit the solar farm were Rick Burns, Debbie Kerr-Cook, Marvin Brickner and Luther Williams. The one member voting in favor of the petition was Tim Cole.

Several neighboring residents spoke against the solar farm during the public hearing portion expressing their concern that noise problems could affect their property values.

 

Posted 3/9/2012