County updates zoning ordinances: Additions made for commercial solar rights, U.S. 31 overlay district

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Hamilton County has updated its zoning ordinances that includes additions for commercial solar rights and also establishes a U.S. 31 overlay district.

The changes, which have been approved by Hamilton County commissioners, now means that the county has a unified development ordinance, which replaces Hamilton County Zoning and Subdivision Control ordinances that had been in effect since 1990.

“Hamilton County has grown and changed immensely since the adoption of its Zoning and Subdivision Control ordinances some 30 years ago,” said C.J. Taylor, director of the county’s Plan Commission. “The revision team took into consideration the county’s recently updated comprehensive plan, road updates, land use best practices and trending technologies in creating the UDO.”

The two biggest zoning changes in the ordinance involve commercial solar projects, in addition to growth along the U.S. 31 corridor, according to the county. Article 8 of the UDO establishes a Commercial Solar Energy Systems Overlay District that is meant to develop a process and standards for solar-generated energy while also protecting prime farmland.

“We’ve watched as neighboring counties lose thousands of acres of prime farmland to large solar installations,” County Commissioner Mark Heirbrandt said. “In surveys and meetings with residents in northern Hamilton County, landowners expressed concern about the effect commercial solar farms could have on home values, topsoil, drainage and water quality. The updates are meant to protect northern Hamilton County’s agrarian way of life.”

Article 8 also identifies commercial solar projects as ones that “generate electricity to be sold in the wholesale market,” according to the ordinance. Anyone who wants to construct a commercial solar project must rezone the property to the Commercial Solar Energy Systems District, which requires a public hearing before the Hamilton County Plan Commission, according to the county.

According to the county, there are several requirements that petitions must do as part of the process, including conducting a soil identification study, demonstrating post-construction stormwater runoff volume and quality mimics or improves upon pre-development conditions, provide a minimum setback of 300 feet between solar equipment and single-family dwellings, among other things.

“We want to encourage the use of solar and renewable energy while also protecting valuable farmland,” Taylor said. “In order to manage that, we needed to put some checks and balances in place.”

Article 10 of the UDO also establishes a U.S. 31 Overlay District, which the county says will help promote coordinated development and increased architectural standards for properties adjacent to and adjoining Dunbar Road on the west side of U.S. 31 extending from 216th Street to 296th Street.

“This is a prime area for development in Hamilton County,” Heirbrandt said. “The new ordinance encourages capital investment and economic development in this area by promoting increased density and mixed-use developments.”

Copies of the UDO are available in the county’s Plan Commission office, while information can also be found on the county’s website at hamiltoncounty.in.gov.

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