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Hobart planners favor solar-power proposal

Updated: March 4, 2012 8:13AM

HOBART — A Minnesota company is moving forward in its quest to operate two solar electric generating facilities in Lake County.

The Hobart Plan Commission on Thursday voted to give Hobart Solar LLC a favorable recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals to build 4,576 solar panels on about 10 acres of a 50-acre parcel on 49th Avenue.

The commission determined the site meets the general criteria of the city’s comprehensive plan.

“I find this use very, very appropriate. I don’t know what else could, or would, be put there,” Plan Commission chairman and Councilman John Brezik, D-5th, said.

While the surrounding property is primarily residential, City Planner A.J. Bytnar said this parcel is zoned business.

The company, operating as Lincoln Solar LLC, recently received unanimous approval from the Merrillville Town Council to install more than 6,800 solar panels on 20 acres south of 8520 Grand Blvd., which will provide enough energy to power about 200 homes.

Chris Little and Brad Wilson, who said they are operating as consultants for a private investor, said they will sell the power generated from the solar panels to Northern Indiana Public Service Co. The two men weren’t as successful in their endeavor to operate solar farms in Porter County, as well. The Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday denied a solar farm planned for Union Township and continued a decision on a second in Portage Township. Several residents there expressed concern about noise and property values.

Wilson and Little applied for a conditional use permit in Hobart under a new renewable energy ordinance that was approved by the Plan Commission earlier in the meeting and that still has to go before the City Council. The ordinance covers solar panels and wind turbines.

Noting that the property faces Interstate 65, commission member Ben Liss asked if the solar panels would create a glare that could cause problems for interstate traffic.

Wilson said glare wouldn’t be an issue as all light is reflected away from the interstate and the panels have an anti-glare surface.

Wilson said he would like to save as many trees on the property as possible. Commission member Stuart Allen said since a significant number will need to be cleared for the panels, Wilson might want to consider adding new trees where there currently are none.

Allen also asked that low-lying shrubbery be planted closer to the front of the property instead of the planned high fence.

Commission member Dan Waldrop suggested the petitioners talk to the adjacent property owners about their plans, as well.

“I feel this is very appropriate for the area, but I don’t live there. I wonder how the people living near there will feel,” Waldrop said.

The proposal needs to go before the BZA and City Council.

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