PERU — The Miami County Plan Commission on Wednesday recommended once again to drastically change setback requirements for solar projects that would override changes that were made just a month ago.

The board voted last month to increase setbacks for solar farms from 25 feet to 150 feet from any property line of an adjoining property owner. The change was proposed by board member Bryan Nutt and was approved 5-2 by the Commission.

That decision drew pushback from Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority, who said the 150-foot setback would make the ordinance so unaccommodating for solar companies that a project would never make it to the table to even consider.

Even so, Miami County commissioners last month voted to approve the stricter setbacks over worries that if they didn’t adopt the change, the previous 25-foot setback would remain in place.

However, commissioners voted to send the newly approved changes back to the Plan Commission for further review and to recommend changing the 150-foot setback that could jeopardize solar projects from coming to the county.

That’s just what the Commission did on Wednesday.

Musselman, who also serves on the planning board, recommended having different setback requirements depending on the size of the adjoining property.

He suggested that if an adjoining property is 10 acres or less, the setback from the property line should be 150 feet. If the adjoining property is more than 10 acres, the setback from the property line should be 50 feet. In both instances, he recommended a 200-foot setback from primary structures on any sized property.

Nutt said he didn’t like making the distinction based on acreage, and instead suggested 150 feet from any adjoining property with a dwelling, and 50 feet from properties without one.

Musselman said the 150-foot setback seemed excessive, arguing if someone lived on the edge of an 80-acre property, the dwelling could already be a half-mile from solar panels on the other side of the property.

“Why put it back another 150 feet when he’s already half a mile from it?” he said.

Musselman argued that basing setbacks on acreage made sense because properties 10 acres or less are small and need more protection from a solar project, while properties larger than 10 acres don’t need that same setback protection.

Board member Tim Alwine agreed and suggested lowering the setback even more on properties larger than 10 acres to 25 feet. He said if the property has a dwelling, the solar panels would still have to be 200 feet away from the structure.

“It’s protecting the homeowner, and you’re protecting the land owner,” he said.

The board agreed and ended up voting to recommend the proposed changes, along with the 25-foot property line setback on properties more than 10 acres.

The Commission will vote on whether to approve the new setbacks during its regular meeting next month following a public hearing on the changes.

The decision Wednesday comes as a solar company is in the middle of negotiating land contracts with residents for a potential project.

Tidd said last month the company is considering making a $375 million investment in the northern part of the county that could substantially boost the area’s assessed value and provide more tax money for schools.

“There’s not many times when a $375 million investment, and company wanting to make that investment, comes into the community,” he told commissioners.

Plan Commission President Brad Fruth said no solar company has submitted any project plans to the county, so any details on what a proposed project might entail is only speculation.
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