It’s not the idea of wind power that upsets members of a local preservation group. Rather, it’s the idea of drafting a city ordinance that would allow wind turbines that the group says are too tall, and too obtrusive for Fitchburg.
No such ordinance is on the table. But City Councilor at-large Jay Cruz, a former Planning Board member, has asked city officials to look into the prospect of wind power, and of writing an ordinance that would allow turbines – under special permit – in Fitchburg.
“Our major concern is a large-scale commercial turbine installation,” said Kris Specht, a member of the Dean Hill Preservation Association. “We’re just really having trouble finding a place where this might fit in the city of Fitchburg. Unfortunately our highest windy spots are our most rural, peaceful locations.”
Cruz submitted a petition in March asking for research into a wind turbine ordinance. The Planning Board and City Council will hold an informational meeting in the near future, after the council requested such a meeting this week.
“It’s a clean source of energy. Let’s be realistic, we’re too dependent on fossil fuels,” Cruz said in a phone interview Thursday. “If it’s located properly and can generate enough electricity, why wouldn’t we want to look into it?”
The Dean Hill group submitted a letter to the City Council this week expressing concern about a zoning ordinance that would allow wind turbines, saying such a bylaw would be too broad.
“We respect Fitchburg’s desire to do the right thing by the environment,” Specht said in a phone interview Thursday. “Just like I feel proud to drive a hybrid, it feels good to do these things. But you’ve got to have information, you’ve got to have thought. … We’re concerned that people, in wanting to do the right thing, will commit a fatal error.”
Specht said a zoning ordinance is unnecessary, and that a small, appropriate project would gain approval – even from her group – anyway.
“We don’t need a sleeping ordinance for that,” she said. “I think that a project that makes sense for Fitchburg would get permitting.”
But David Streb, Fitchburg’s planning coordinator, said this isn’t how zoning laws are supposed to work.
“If a use is not allowed in the zoning ordinance, it’s not allowed,” he said. He acknowledged variances are sometimes granted anyway, but said they shouldn’t be.
So Fitchburg would need a zoning ordinance allowing wind turbines for any such projects, even small ones, to go forward, Streb said. But a well-crafted bylaw could address residents’ concerns.
He mentioned an ordinance recently proposed in the western Massachusetts town of Shutesbury. That bylaw would allow turbines up to 80 feet tall on one-acre parcels, and up to 160 feet on larger parcels – all by special permit. The bylaw, which specifically refers to “small wind energy systems,” would require all towers to be set at a distance at least three times their height from any abutting homes.
These numbers contrast sharply with those included in a sample ordinance Fitchburg Planning Board members discussed in January. That ordinance would allow taller turbines – up to 400 feet – and smaller setbacks.
But Fitchburg officials did not write the draft ordinance, and explicitly labeled it “for discussion purposes only.” The draft was prepared by the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources and the Massachusetts Office of Environmental Affairs.
Specht, Cruz and Streb all said they want a thorough discussion to precede adoption of any ordinance.
“I don’t want to rush this,” Cruz said.
By Alexandra Perloe
18 May 2007
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