The Hart Township Planning Commission gave its blessing to one request and gave approval for another at meeting Thursday, Nov. 7.

Representatives from Peterson Farms were in attendance and presented an update on the early learning/daycare center that is planned at the former Jehovah’s Witnesses church on Oceana Drive, which Peterson Farms recently purchased. Peterson Farms will be funding the building’s start up costs and facility expenses going forward. Shelby Public Schools will be responsible for all programming expenses such as staffing, transportation and food service. Final state certification is forthcoming, but it is anticipated that there will be enough space for three early learning classrooms and one room for infants. The anticipated space would be able to provide services for over 50 area children. Registration would be open to all area families, not just Peterson Farms employees or Shelby residents. Realistically, the center would probably not open until the fall. In preparing to present at the meeting, representatives discovered that a Special Use Permit (SUP) is not needed for schools. The building and educational programming will be run as part of the Shelby Public Schools district. Because Peterson Farms did not need to submit a SUP and the planning commission was not required to approve anything, members gave “their blessing” and decided it would be best to pass the information along to the township board in case they had any further questions.

EDF Renewables, a European company providing wind and solar solutions, is looking to build a solar farm on parcels in Hart township. The company recently submitted a special use permit indicating it would like to go forward with the project. Marc Daneman, one of the township’s attorneys addressed the committee saying, “This solar farm project, if approved, could be one of the largest in the state. It will no doubt attract a lot of attention and others will be looking to you as a model. It is critical that you review this application and documentation in detail. I had hoped to find one consultant who could advise you in all areas, however, because the project of this size is relatively large, I think you would be better served if it is broken up into specific areas. After interviewing land technicians from across the state and one from California, I would recommend contracting with Spicer Engineering of Manistee to look at the land use and zoning information. They have worked with some larger projects, as well as the wind projects in the thumb area of Michigan. I would also recommend contracting with CA Engineering of California to look at the overall operations and the decommissioning plan. Both engineering firms could provide their reports at a cost between $3,000-$5,000 each. In addition to the two engineering firms, I would like to contact the Energy Foundation, for an independent review. Their report would be free so it wouldn’t be as extensive as the engineers, but it would give you a third party opinion.”

Planning commission member Dick Huntington said, “Decommission is the biggest concern of people right now. We need to have a plan in place so that in 30 years things are taken care of. We don’t want the property diminished. It should be left as the same or better than when the project started.”

The committee unanimously gave approval to authorize Daneman and the township’s other attorney, Crystal Morgan, to negotiate with Spicer and CA Engineering and come up with workable contracts, for $3,000-$5,000 each. The committee was reminded that this money would come from the already established escrow fund set up with EDF.

During public comment, a township resident asked, “Will the questions from the last meeting be addressed tonight?” Daneman answered, “EDF has provided the committee with a detailed document addressing the questions that were asked at last month’s meeting.”

Planning commission member Doug Fuehring added, “Rather than answer one or two questions now and a couple later, we would like to review the information more fully before responding. Although we’ve been at this for nearly three years now, we are finally getting down to some of the nitty gritty details that pertain to this project.”

Another resident asked, “Do you know when the project is expected to begin?”

Huntington said, “EDF is looking at beginning construction in 2022.”

A work session meeting is scheduled for Wednesday Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. where the commission plans to go over the engineers reports regarding land use, zoning and decommissioning as well as the information submitted by the Energy Foundation.