Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 5, 2016

IA Appeals Court Upholds Rezoning to Permit Wind Farm and Finds No Conflicts of Interest on the Part of Board Members

On August 29, 2013, MidAmerican Energy Company filed a request with the Grundy County Board of Supervisors, to amend the county zoning ordinance to rezone approximately 1200 acres from an A–1 Agricultural District to an A–2 Agricultural District. Wellsburg Wind Energy, LLC had obtained certain “Wind Farm Option Agreements,” which had been assigned to and assumed by MidAmerican Energy Company on May 24, 2013. The rezoning sought by MidAmerican would allow MidAmerican to place larger wind turbines on the land than the wind turbines that would be permitted in an A–1 Agricultural District. Although the Grundy County Planning and Zoning Commission voted against amending the ordinance, the Grundy Country Board of Supervisors set the matter for a public hearing and approved the proposed amendment to rezone the property. Susan Miller filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the district court, alleging the board acted improperly in approving the amendment because it failed to conduct a study before rezoning the land. The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss and annulled the writ.

The court found that land in an A–1 Agricultural District does not automatically become an “agricultural area.” Since the land involved in the zoning amendment had not been designated as an “agricultural area” by the board of supervisors, the provisions of section 352.6, which required the conducting of a study before rezoning the land, were not applicable. The court therefore agreed with the district court that the board was not required to make the findings listed in section 352.6(3) before voting to rezone the land to A–2 Agricultural District.

Miller also argued that the Board acted improperly because two of the voting supervisors had a conflict of interest that required their recusal. Miller first alleged that Supervisor Barb Smith was required to recuse herself because she is one of the owners of the AmericInn, which offered discounted rates to wind energy officials who stayed there. However, Miller was unable to offer evidence that any discounts received by wind energy officials were different than discounts available to anyone else staying at the AmericInn. Miller next alleged that Supervisor James Ross had a conflict of interest stemming from his alleged interest in land subject to wind-energy options or easements. This claim also failed because the court found Ross’s relationship to this tract, relationship to the other owners, and partial ownership of this tract, presented no disqualifying conflict of interest. Accordingly, the court affirmed the order annulling the writ of certiorari.

Miller v Grundy County Board of Supervisors, 2015 WL 1817096 (IA App. 4/22/2015)


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