A proposed zoning amendment that would allow the siting of wind turbines in the city has received a green light to proceed through the public hearing process.
The City Council Land Use Committee last night approved a resolution, calling the proposal a “viable ordinance” and recommended that the council trigger the public hearing process by referring it to the Planning Board.
The Planning Board would be responsible for holding the first round of public hearings on the zoning amendment. It would then make a recommendation to the City Council, which would hold another round of hearings on it.
Joel J. Fontane, director of the city’s Planning and Regulatory Services Division, said the entire public hearing process could take four to six months.
“There will be plenty of opportunity for people to weigh in on this ordinance,” said District 4 Councilor Barbara G. Haller, chairman of the Land Use Committee. “This meeting was more or less a sniff test to see if we feel this ordinance is in good enough shape for us to go forward with it. After this informational presentation, we feel this is a viable ordinance and should be sent to the Planning Board to get the public hearing process started.”
While the city is interested in taking the lead in harnessing wind power as a clean and renewable energy source, there is a regulatory barrier preventing that. Mr. Fontane, who drafted the proposed zoning amendment, said that because the use of wind turbines and windmills for the generation of electricity are not explicitly mentioned in the city’s zoning ordinance, they are not a permitted use.
Under the proposed zoning amendment, such facilities would be allowed through a special permit process before the Planning Board.
Assistant City Manager Julie A. Jacobson said the zoning amendment balances the need to capitalize on technological advances in the energy industry to generate electricity from wind power with the need to maintain the quality of life for residents.
“Wind power is coming,” Ms. Jacobson told the committee. “We’ve got to prepare for it. This will enable us to pursue wind power, through both public and private efforts, in the future.”
Mr. Fontane said the amendment incorporates reasonable regulations that mitigate potential negative impacts and protect the quality of life in neighborhoods. Some of the provisions include restrictions on the height of the towers, setback requirements, regulations on the noise generated by the rotating wind turbine blades and visual impact considerations.
He said the maximum allowable height of the wind turbines would be 265 feet. He said that would allow for small-utility scale wind turbines and would prohibit the larger scale ones that are up to 400 feet in height.
In addition, the amendment requires a 650-foot separation from a wind turbine to the nearest “non-participating landowner’s” occupied building and at least a 165-foot separation between the turbine and the nearest occupied building of the landowner where the turbine is sited.
“We want to ensure that these facilities do not adversely affect the rest of the neighborhood,” Mr. Fontane said.
Holy Name High School wants to erect a wind turbine on its Granite Street property so the school can save nearly $200,000 in annual electricity costs.
Kevin Schulte of Sustainable Development Inc., which is working on the Holy Name project, praised city officials for the ordinance that was drafted. He said it is one that is company could easily live with.
“This is a rare example of an ordinance that is friendly to both technology and neighborhoods,” Mr. Schulte said.
Several other people, including representatives of Holy Name, spoke in favor of the amendment. No one spoke against it.
Councilor-at-Large Michael C. Perotto said he was excited about the prospects that lay ahead once the amendment is approved
“This is a job well-done,” Mr. Perotto said. “It is something that is very progressive and could put us on the forefront when it comes to renewable energy.”
By Nick Kotsopoulos
Telegram & Gazette Staff
1 March 2007
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