FITCHBURG – The city’s Planning Department released a revised version of legislation governing wind turbines, but one of the city’s strongest windmill supporters said the modified document is still incomplete.
“They have a good first draft starting off, but it needs to be critiqued if the city of Fitchburg wants to be looked at as an aggressive renewable energy city,” said Greg Lemay, who had his proposal to install a 120-foot turbine in his backyard rejected by the city last year.
Planning Coordinator David Streb originally authored a draft ordinance governing small wind energy systems in November, but after a public hearing in December, the Planning Board decided to rewrite the ordinance to take into account concerns by members of the community as well as the Planning Board.
The biggest changes in the new ordinance reduce the allowable power capacity of a turbine from 100 kilowatts to 60 kilowatts. Another change requires the turbine to be no more than 10 decibels over ambient noise, rather than capping it at the 55 decibel limit in the old legislation.
Other changes add submittal requirements and give the Planning Board more leeway in considering the permitted use of a turbine.
The ordinance also adds additional sections, which the Planning Board can waive in a special permitting process. Those restrictions that can be waived include some setbacks to property lines, public ways and inhabited structure if the adjacent land is municipal or dedicated open space.
“This draft has been significantly revised over the initial draft prepared in November 2007 in response to comments received at the December 16 public hearing, e-mail comments received from various residents, comments from a City Councilor and extensive comments and suggestions from the Planning Board,” Streb wrote in the introduction to the legislation.
Planning Board Chairwoman Paula Caron said she is happy with the new draft, but said much work still needs to be done.
“I’d have to say it incorporates a lot of the comments made by the public, but there’s still a lot of things to be discussed and it’s still all up in the air,” she said.
The Planning Board will be holding a second public hearing on the ordinance on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Caron said the public will dictate much of the discussion based off their concerns, but she expects the setback restrictions to be one topic.
Lemay said setbacks are the biggest issue he wants to iron out before the draft is finalized.
“We’re still trying to work on the setbacks for the so called fall zone that doesn’t need to be there,” Lemay said.
The fall zones require the tower to be 1.1 times its height away from a neighboring boundary and 1.5 times the tower’s height away from an abutters habitable structure.
Lemay said he would like to see those reduced because they restrict turbines to only be allowed on very large parcels of land, which may not have adequate wind supply for a turbine.
Caron said setbacks could be discussed, but noted that the Planning Board needs to find a midground between not being too restrictive and not being too lax.
“We want to see reasonable guidelines,” she said.
Lemay said another issue the Planning Board should consider is complaints against a turbine’s owner.
He said if a neighbor complains about the noise level of a turbine, or another issue with the turbine that would require extensive studies to defend, that the burden of proof should be on the complainant, not the turbine owners.
“It’s easy to have someone complain then have their neighbor spend thousands of dollars defending it,” Lemay said.
The Planning Board will hold Thursday’s public hearing, then decide if the issue should be continued to another public hearing, or if the board is ready to make a recommendation to the City Council for an ordinance.
Caron said the process will take “as long as it needs to” but said it could take as much as a couple of months.
The council will eventually consider the legislation that will become city law.
By Brandon Butler
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