This Tuesday the Grant City Council will vote to approve or deny an application to allow a text amendment that would allow solar farms in land zoned A-1 (large agricultural). The applicant, Joyce Welander, is working with US Solar Corporation to install a solar farm on 8 acres of her 58 acre large field on the northwest corner of Manning Avenue and 75th Street. The proposed solar farm installation would be setback in the middle of the field and be surrounded by Blackhill Spruce and Dogwood trees. Welander, a long time Grant Resident, agriculture entrepreneur and 4H community leader believes in the solar farm concept to protect and enhance natural resources of community and environment, establish pollinator friendly habitats for the local bees and assure adequate solar access for residents to subscribe to.
Grant Planning Commission Flips then Flops on Allowing Solar Farm
In 2017 the planning commission approved the text amendment to allow solar farms 6 to 1. The City Council went on to deny the application in 2017, citing that the solar farm concept does not fit the cities comprehensive plan. Voting against the application were Mayor Jeff Huber and Councilmen Tom Carr and Dennis Kaup. Voting to approve the text amendment application were Councilmen Larry Lanoux and Loren Sederstrom. On November 20th, this proposal came before the planning commission for the second time. This time the planning commission flipped and voted against 6-1, Planning Commissioner Matt Fritze, was the lone planning commission member to vote yes.
Grant Residents Voice Opinions in Favor of Allowing Solar Farm Text Amendment
After Welander's Text Amendment Application was rejected by the Grant City Council in 2017, Welander took initiative over the summer to speak with various residents in Grant about the solar farm concept. Welander received 196 signatures in support of solar farms, with only one resident she spoke with not signing. At the planning commission meeting, residents spoke at the public hearing in favor of approving the text amendment. There was not one person that spoke in opposition. However, the planning commission, chaired by newly elected City Councilman, John Rog, did not allow Welander and the US Solar Applicant adequate time to speak publicly without badgering their speech and requesting that they wrap it up quickly. US Solar Representative, David Watts, pointed out to Rog that Welander had paid the city a good amount of money for the application and he should give them enough time to present their case. Rog stated that they have a full agenda and to move quickly through their speech, even though there was only one other item on the meeting agenda.
Planning Commission Member and also newly elected City Councilman, Jeff Giefer, Flipped Voted to No
Giefer was another member of the planning commission to flip his vote from yes to no. Giefer asked the city if they received a resident petition in opposition to the solar farm, and the City Representatives stated that it would be unusual for a city to start any petition for a particular issue such as a text amendment to allow solar farms. Giefer then went on to state that he talked with 330 people in the last couple weeks and only 5 people favored solar farms. Giefer provided no petition, public speakers or evidence of these facts.
Planning Commission Members Tufty and Helander Voted No Because they didn't like the looks
Even though the City of Grant is filled with great views as well as unsightly views (large utility poles, natural gas substations, etc)., Grant Planning Commission Members Robert Tufty and Jerry Helander voted in opposition, because the solar farm is not the right aesthic look for Grant. Tufty stated the look of a solar farm is good for a city like Lindstrom, but not for Grant. Tufty gave a scenario where he made a recent visit up to Lindstrom to view a solar farm, and when he arrived back to the City of Grant, he thought this is not the right look for Grant. Tufty also attempted to give Welander tax advice, warning Welander of losing her Green Acres tax advantages. Welander stated to Tufty that she was well aware of the tax implications to her personally.
Welander and US Solar Made Improvements to Appease City of Grant
Watts had pointed out to the planning commission that Welander and US Solar had made improvements from the original application submitted in 2017. One proposal they made was for the City of Grant to include in the text amendment restriction a one mile buffer radius, which would mean there could not be another solar farm located within a one mile radius. Also, a provision would require a minimum of 40 acres with a maximum of 10 acres to be used for this particular type of solar farm. According to Watts, Wright and Rice Counties in Minnesota have similar restrictions.
The City Council will meet this Tuesday, December 4th at 7:00 PM at The Grant Town Hall.