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3/3/2012 11:11:00 AM
Solar panel company sues Porter County over denial of zoning variance

James D. Wolf Jr., Post-Tribune Correspondent

VALPARAISO — The Minnesota-based company putting solar panel farms throughout Northwest Indiana is suing Porter County for not allowing one.

The county Board of Zoning Appeals turned down Ecos Renewable Energy – doing business as Valparaiso Solar LLC – for a variance that would allow for such a farm on 28 acres at 495 W. 450 North in Union Township. The BZA voted four-to-one on Feb. 1 against granting the variance.

The suit lists the Board of Zoning Appeals and the county as defendants.

The land, which is west of Sedley Road and south of Indiana 130, is zoned industrial on the northern part and rural residential on the southern.

Ecos Renewable Energy’s local attorney, Todd Leeth, filed the suit on Feb. 27, 26 days after the BZA turned down the request to allow the farm. Leeth, declined to talk about the suit.

One of the arguments in the suit is that Porter County’s “Unified Development Ordinance does not permit or allow a solar energy system … in a manner reasonably calculated to promote and encourage solar energy systems.”

County Planner Raymond Joseph said, “There is nothing currently in the Unified Development Ordinance that permits solar farms.” He declined to comment further on the case.

The suit also states that the BZA “decision was based on public sentiment and not on the evidence or record before the BZA.” A number of residents attended the Feb. 1 BZA meeting to voice concerns about how it would affect their property values.

The suit also asks that the BZA reverse its decision and that the county cover any attorney fees or costs Ecos Renewable Energy incurred because of the matter. Ecos has proposed solar farms in Hobart, Merrillville and Portage Township, all similar.

Those representing the firm have remained discreet about the farms and whether more are planned. “We have been asked by our clients not to do any publicity whatsoever,” Brad Wilson, project manager for Ecos, said earlier this year.

Ecos Renewable Energy has a parent company and possibly the investor in its solar projects, Allco Renewable Energy Limited, based in New York.

Related Stories:
• Company seeks to bring solar panel farms to Northwest Indiana
• EDITORIAL: Solar farms are short on details
• Solar energy farm wins Hobart BZA approval to build 4,576 panels
• Production of solar panels at Tipton plant pushed back at least one year

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