Members of the Henry County Planning Commission do not understand why the county commissioners won’t approve rules for local solar projects.

The planning commission voted Thursday to send the proposed solar ordinance back to the Henry County Commissioners so the document doesn’t die on the vine.

“What is the hold up? What do we do to correct or add or delete or something?” Planning Commissioner Dale Cole asked Thursday. “There’s a lot of work that’s been put into this thing. It’s a crying shame that we would think about it being just thrown in the trash pile.”

Planning Commissioner Kenon Gray shared that thought.

“I’d hate to see it just die. A lot of work went into it,” Gray said. “It may not be perfect, but to let it die, I think, would be irresponsible.”

At the same time, the planners asked for more communication from the county commissioners about what they actually want.

Gray asked for a combined meeting and fellow board member Marsha Gratner asked to see what suggested changes the county commissioners are looking at.

Neither got any additional info Thursday night.

Passing a hot potato

The planning commission sent a proposed solar ordinance to the Henry County Commissioners in November. The county commissioners rejected the ordinance in December and sent it back to the planners.

In January, Commissioners Ed Tarantino and Steve Dellinger told the planning commission “additional input was needed for modifications.”

The planning commission asked in a formal letter “what ‘additional input’ was needed and what modifications would possibly be considered,” telling the county commissioners “we would need specifics as to what is objectionable to the ordinance as written in order to meaningfully discuss how to proceed.”

Henry County Commissioner Ed Tarantino sent an email reply to Zoning Administrator Darrin Jacobs on Feb. 11.

“The commissioners are independently evaluating the ordinance based upon input we have received from various members of the public. I believe that several of the suggested changes have merit, and should be given serious consideration,” Tarantino said. “The commissioners are making every effort to insure that the ordinance we send back to the planning board will be one that thoroughly addresses the safety and well- being of the citizens of Henry County and allows for reasonable solar development in the county.”

In his email, Tarantino said the current Henry County Comprehensive Plan discourages “the use of prime farm land for solar projects, and encourages the use of brown lands and other less productive areas.”

“Since most current projects being proposed around the state are in direct opposition to this, it must also be given consideration. We appreciate your patience on this matter and also appreciate the work that has already been done,” Tarantino said.

Confused by response

Planning Commission member Olene Veach called Tarantino’s email “vague” and asked for more information.

“One of the problems at the last meeting is they were asking about certain issues ... We wanted them to be more specific,” Veach said. “This, again, is very vague, I think.”

Gratner pointed to Tarantino’s mention of several “suggested changes” that the commissioner said “have merit.”

“Can we take a look at those suggestions or changes?” Gratner asked.

Jacobs said he hasn’t seen those suggestions.

“I guess you’d have to speak to the commissioners,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Bobbi Plummer is also one of the Henry County Commissioners. Plummer told her fellow planners that she has no other comments about the solar ordinance. She also abstained from any vote on the solar ordinance.

Plummer said the three county commissioners are “independently researching solar.”

She advised the other planners that their concern Thursday night was not about the particulars of the ordinance; instead, they only needed to worry about the procedure of sending the ordinance back as is or not.

“My personal opinion is what’s before the planning commission right now, not what the (county) commissioners want, not what I want, not what Ed wants, but before the board right now is does the PC do nothing, accept the rejection, or reject the rejection,” she said.

In order to keep the proposed Henry County Solar Ordinance alive, the planning commission voted 7-0 Thursday to “reject the rejection” and send it back to the county commissioners. Plummer abstained.

Other business

In other business, the planning commission granted a commission approved use (CAU) for Janet Howard and Darius Burke to turn their property on CR 100 N. into a wedding venue. Burke said he has been planning the project since 2016.

The planning commission also forwarded a “No Recommendation” vote to the Middletown Town Council about a rezone request from property owner Elizabeth Middleton.

Middleton had requested to rezone 15 acres inside the town’s limit from Single-family Residential (R1) to Rural Residential (RR). Middleton told the planning commission she is trying to sell her property and prospective buyers what the option to have horses. The property needs to be zoned RR to allow any livestock to be kept there.

The planning commissioners were worried that future buyers might use the RR zoning to bring chickens or cows into the town.

In rezoning requests, the planning commission’s role is to make a recommendation to the governing body. In this case, their recommendation would go to the Middletown Town Council.

The initial vote to recommend the rezone request failed 3-5, with members Kenon Gray, Marsha Gratner and Bobbi Plummer voting in favor. A second motion of “No recommendation” passed 8-0.

The Henry County Planning Commission sent their “No Recommendation” vote and research to the Middletown council to let them make the final decision.

The Middletown Town Council will hear the matter at the regular meeting at 7 p.m. March 2.

The Henry County Planning Commission has no cases scheduled for March, so there will be no regular meeting in March.