Tuesday evening the Culver Town Council discussed whether to further regulate industrial solar energy systems and utility-scale battery energy storage systems under the zoning ordinance.

Acting Town Council Attorney Janette Surrisi explained to the crowd gathered in the Culver Town Hall that it wasn’t a public hearing, those have already happened.  The agenda called for a discussion of council members to consider imposing a moratorium that would allow the council, plan commission, and the public to work together to update the current zoning ordinance.

At the Town Council’s request, the Culver Plan Commission conducted a public hearing on the current ordinance and make a favorable or unfavorable recommendation to the town council.  After their hearing, the commission took a vote but didn’t have the required 5 votes to take official action so there was no recommendation to the town council.       

Surrisi told council members one of the issues that came out of the Plan Commission’s public hearing was the time frame of the moratorium and the second issue that the commission questioned was Indiana Code 36-7-2-8 which states, “a unit may not adopt any ordinance which has the effect of prohibiting or unreasonably restricting the use of solar energy systems other than for the preservation or the protection of public health and safety.”

The town attorney said the current ordinance does not have a fire safety protection plan in place. She also said there is another solar company besides the Burr Oak project who’s acquired 240-250 acres southwest of the lake so the town is unsure of the number of companies wanting to do large-scale solar projects plus the utility battery storage project.

Surrisi told the council that the plan would be to work quickly to create reasonable restrictions with input from a lot of community members collaborating.  She said, “Understanding that not just what certain leaders of the community want but, what the people in town and the people surrounding really would like to have for a sensible ordinance.”   

As the Culver Town Council considered the moratorium, Surrisi told them they needed to consider the Comprehensive Plan, the current conditions, and characters of the district, the most desirable use for which the land and the district are adaptive, the conservation of property values, and responsible development for growth.”   

Council President Bill Cleavenger asked each council member for comments.

Rich West asked acting town attorney Janette Surrisi if her co-council, Jim Clevenger, agreed with the moratorium for the solar energy fields and Surrisi said, “He is more pro-solar.  He likes the idea of solar energy, and he is just more pro-solar.”  West also asked about the Marshall County solar ordinance that was created by a multi-member task force.  He asked Surrisi if she thought it would be adaptable with minor revisions.  Surrisi didn’t think the town should work at modifying the county’s ordinance because “we would be robbing our community of the process of input.” She also said in her opinion the county’s ordinance is “defective” in several ways. 

Bill Githens said he was in favor of the moratorium.  He commented that when the county created its ordinance 4-years ago they didn’t even know about the large-scale battery storage facilities. He said, “We need to tighten the restraints.”

Sally Riccardi was in favor of getting a variety of people together from both sides of the aisle to come up with a consensus for a new ordinance but getting it done as soon as possible.

Bill Hamm said he agreed with Sally that the ordinance needs to be improved and that consultants should be found to assist us.  He said, “I know this issue is very tricky because you have facts and you have passion and there are people on both sides of the fence.”  Bill said he’d like to see the new ordinance in place no later than next spring. 

Bill Cleavenger said he echoed Mr. Githens’s remarks.  He said, “I think there are enough questions about these projects, and I think we have a lot of emotions on one side or the other, but I think it’s time to step back and look at this.”           

The Culver Town Council voted 4-1 to impose the moratorium. Members Bill Githens, Sally Ricciardi, Bill Cleavenger, and Bill Hamm voted in favor and Rich West was the lone opposed vote.