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A Northampton lawyer, hired by a local citizens group, says a proposed wind turbine farm and an existing meteorological tower on West Hill are not allowed under the town’s current zoning bylaws.
The group, Savoy Neighbors, commissioned Jonathan Z. Souweine of Lesser, Newman, Souweine & Nasser LLP to do an analysis of Savoy’s zoning bylaws in light of the proposed five 420 foot-turbine, 12.5 megawatt wind power facility to be located on 290 acres of West Hill. He determined the current bylaws prohibit any structure over 35 feet from being built in town.
“In our opinion, neither the constructed (meteorological) tower nor an industrial wind turbine is an allowed use under the current town of Savoy zoning bylaws,” Souweine wrote.
The seven-page legal opinion was sent to the Selectmen as well as to the Planning Board, which is working on a bylaw to govern the building and operation of such a wind farm.
“We hope this kind of advisory will change their belief of welcoming wind developers into town,” said a member of Savoy Neighbors who wished not to be identified.
The group has also distributed maps, pamphlets about wind power and a graphic comparing the height of the proposed wind towers to well-known landmarks. Its members are circulating a petition saying the meteorological tower – constructed to test the site for a wind facility – is illegal and demanding its removal.
No members of Savoy Neighbors would go on record at this time but one described the group as “people with a shared concern about Savoy becoming an industrial wind plant region.”
Selectmen Chairman John Tynan does not deny that the current bylaws prohibit wind turbines, but said the new wind turbine bylaw being completed by the Planning Board would supersede any older ones.
“I would tend to agree with their assessment. I’m not a lawyer but I would agree with it,” Tynan said. “But that’s the current bylaw. The new bylaw proposed by the Planning Board, that would take precedence over anything in our current bylaws.”
The town has been struggling for more than a year to come up with a bylaw to regulate wind turbines. The Planning Board had hoped to have one by town meeting earlier this spring, but that deadline has long come and gone. The wind farm developer, Minuteman Wind LLC, has asked the town to adopt a bylaw before it begins the permitting process.
The analysis included the building permit for the meteorological tower put up in 2003, which the group claims was issued illegally. However, Harold Malloy – the owner of the land on West Hill – said because the tower is a temporary structure, the building inspector was able to issue the permit with the agreement of the Zoning Board and Conservation Commission chairmen.
Building Inspector Edwin Wilk could not be reached to verify this, but Tynan said that was the case.
Malloy plans to lease the land to Minuteman; he, too, has urged the Planning Board to come up with a bylaw.
Savoy Neighbors also cited a memo from the Selectmen telling all boards, committees and department heads to disregard the information on wind turbines that the group had sent out. One Savoy Neighbor called that controlling information, and said it was “totalitarian” in nature.
Tynan denied this was the point of the memo.
“We’re not trying to get people to read any specific type of information, people can read whatever they want,” Tynan said. “We just wanted to let people know some of the information out there is not very credible. Unless you can verify that something is a fact, it’s hard to pay a lot of attention to it.”
Savoy Neighbors said the analysis was done to stress to residents the legal situation of the turbines: “Any bylaw draft to enable wind turbines – regardless if it’s coming from the Planning Board or Malloy – should be rejected if the people feel (wind turbines) are not appropriate in our rural town.”
By Ryan Hutton
19 July 2007
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