Henry County is one vote away from having a new set of rules about industrial solar farms.

The Henry County Planning Commission has been working on a comprehensive Solar Energy System (SES) ordinance for nearly a year.

The planners agreed with an 8-0 vote this week to move the proposed ordinance on to the County Commissioners for final adoption.

The final version of the SES ordinance voted on Tuesday included an entire section by Henry County Commissioner Ed Tarantino that focused on a “property value guarantee.”

Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs explained Commissioner Tarantino could have added the language once the ordinance appeared in front of the County Commissioners. However, that would have sent the amended rules back to the planning commission and restarted the approval process.

With the vote Tuesday, Henry County’s next newest ordinance could be on the Commissioners’ agenda Dec. 16 for a final vote.

The planning commission started investigating solar rules in late 2019 at the urging of local residents concerned about potential development in the area.

The planning commission granted a permit to Lightsource bp Nov. 17 to move forward with a large-scale solar project in southern Henry County. Although the ordinance isn’t yet in place, Lightsource bp representatives testified they would follow the rules in the proposed ordinance.

Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs told the planning commission he’d received feedback from the energy industry worried the rules are too restrictive and emails from other people worried the rules aren’t restrictive enough.

Jacobs said this might indicate Henry County’s ordinance is “kind of right down the middle, I hope.”

Several of the county planners thanked Jacobs for the work he’d done compiling the 19-page document over the past several months.

The ordinance includes provisions for setbacks from neighbors and the aforementioned property value guarantee if a neighbor has trouble selling because of the solar farm. There are also guidelines about using part of any planned solar farm to support natural pollinators in the area or for livestock grazing to keep the land viable for future farming.

The Henry County Commissioners will be the final body to vote on the proposed ordinance before it goes into law. That meeting is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16.

At that time, the commissioners can vote to accept the ordinance, modify it or reject it outright.

Hospital’s Knightstown plans

The planning commissioners also all agreed Tuesday to rezone 40 acres near Knightstown for a possible expansion of Henry Community Health.

Paul Janssen, HCH’s president and chief executive officer, explained that the hospital wants to eventually build offices near the Interstate 70 and Ind. 109 interchange.

The medical offices there would be a smaller version of what’s at Northfield Park in New Castle, Janssen said.

Before the Henry County Hospital Foundation buys the property, however, Janssen and other reps asked Henry County to rezone it from Heavy Industrial to General Business.

The Weimer family that currently owns the land told the planning commission they’ve had offers for the land in the past, including an RV storage/sales facility and an asphalt plant.

The land was zoned for those uses, but the Weimers didn’t think it was a good fit, considering the neighborhood.

“When Henry County Hospital approached my dad and said, ‘Hey, we want to put a medical facility here with our target to serve the Knightstown community and this portion of southwestern Henry County,’ you know, that kind of caught our attention,” DJ Weimer said. “That is something that’s great for our community.”

Weimer said the closest physicians to Knightstown people are in Greenfield or New Castle.

“We thought this was a good opportunity for our community and to get some more healthcare services here,” he added. “With the current Heavy Industrial zoning, we have been very aware of different enterprises and the concerns that our neighbors would probably have ... We just thought this would be a better use for the land.”

Neighbors to the property raised concerns about increased traffic to the area and possible drainage issues that could come with development.

Janssen said the hospital doesn’t have building plans yet, so they don’t know what any traffic patterns would look like.

Jacobs reminded the planning commission that the request was just for rezoning. Any building plans would require a drainage study through the county drainage board.

The planners voted unanimously to recommend the rezone request to the Henry County Commissioners at their next meeting.

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