DIXON – Residents are concerned that a proposed solar farm will endanger the neighboring Col. Nathan Whitney House, a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.
The historic home at 1620 Whitney Road south of Franklin Grove has been part of the national register since 1990. It was built in 1860 for Whitney, a veteran of the War of 1812, who settled in the Franklin Grove area in 1836 and founded the Franklin Grove Nursery and Orchards.
“I don’t want to be forced out of this house.”
— George Breust, owner of Whitney House
Amboy IL Solar 1 LLC, a part of Distributed Solar Development LLC owned by hedge fund giant BlackRock, is looking to develop a six-megawatt solar farm on about 30 acres of land next to the Whitney House near Whitney and McGirr roads.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals recently failed to approve a favorable recommendation for the project in a split vote with members Bruce Forster and Craig Buhrow in favor and Ali Huss and Mike Pratt against. Tie votes count as a fail.
Huss and Pratt said they were concerned about the potential impact next to the Whitney House as well as the project being on prime farmland.
The project would be surrounded by a seven-foot fence, and the company would create visual buffers with small trees or bushes outside of the fence, as required by the Lee County solar ordinance.
George Breust, owner of the Whitney House who’s lived there for 20 years, is against the project and said he doesn’t think that the visual buffers will protect the historical aesthetics of his property.
“I don’t want to be forced out of this house,” he said.
The house is the only historically registered property in rural Lee County, and it shouldn’t be surrounded by glass panels, local historian Mark Wagner said.
“We never ever thought that this could possibly happen; that is the crown jewel of the county,” Wagner said. “A historic property is looked at in the context of not just the building but what is around the building.”
The company conducted a phase 1 archaeological and cultural resource survey and found that the development would not have a negative impact on surrounding structures, including the Whitney House, which would be about 425 to 430 feet away from the solar panels, said Nicholas Yuknis, an environmental scientist from TRC who testified on behalf of the solar company.
The report was sent to the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office on May 10 and is awaiting review, he said.
“You cannot tell me that putting glass panels mounted on polls almost all around this property keeps the historical context of what the Whitney mansion is supposed to be,” Wagner said.
The Zoning Board found that the company provided “no competent evidence to show that the property development would not have an effect on nearby property values due to the historic nature of the neighboring property” and that it would have a significant impact on the character of the neighborhood and surrounding properties.
The company has a lease agreement with landowner David Lyons, and the project footprint is sloped with terraces.
The project would generate about $20,000 in annual property tax revenue and generate enough electricity to power about 900 homes, senior project manager Kevin Hu said.
If approved, construction would begin in April and be completed in November 2024, Hu said.