A recent decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals may make Indiana more attractive for renewable energy and other controversial projects.
In Dunmoyer v. Wells County, Indiana Area Plan Comm’n, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision and held that planning authorities like the Wells County, Indiana Area Plan Commission had the right to adopt and regulate their own planning decisions.
The legislative body of Wells County adopted the “Wells County Zoning and Floodplain Management Ordinance” to govern land development. This ordinance also created the Wells County, Indiana Area Plan Commission. In March 2013, Wells County Wind II, LCC, Apex Clean Energy Holdings, LLC, and Apex Wind Energy, Inc., collectively known as “Apex”, brought forth a new wind energy conversion system proposal to the Plan Commission. The 80-page proposal laid out exactly how the companies planned to comply with the county’s zoning ordinances. In August 2013, the proposal was approved with a 6-3 vote by the Plan Commission. Following the approval, the neighboring landowners filed a petition in the Wells County Superior Court arguing that the proposal failed to comply with a number of ordinance provisions. The court granted Apex’s motion for partial summary judgment and found that the landowners failed to show that the Plan Commission’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with the law, unconstitutional, or not supported by substantial evidence.”
The landowners appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals, but again, the court sided with the Plan Commission. The Court of Appeals found that the landowners could not prove that they were aggrieved or prejudiced by the Plan Commission but remanded the trial court to remand the Plan Commission to make sure the proposed development plan “satisfies or fails to satisfy the requirements” of the zoning ordinance.
Although the Court of Appeals affirmed and remanded the case to the lower court with instructions, the takeaway from the case is still the same – plan commissions have the overall authority over planning decisions in their jurisdiction. This affirmation indirectly supports the “home rule” concept in Indiana and may reduce future challenges to Plan Commission decisions.