A council committee has decided to reconsider a thumbs-down given last month to a wind turbine designed to clean-power a futuristic and future office building on the bank of the Annisquam River.
The three-member Planning and Development Committee voted against developer Mac Bell’s proposal at the end of a lengthy public hearing in February, but Bell is getting a second chance to pitch the project Wednesday night.
The reconsideration comes on the motion of Councilor Sharon George, who initially joined Councilors Jackie Hardy and Phil Devlin in opposing the turbine. The vote came after a hearing that featured arguments that the 250-kilowatt turbine with blade tips spinning 178 feet above the rocky river shore would interrupt the authenticity of views.
George said her rereading of the commercial wind turbine ordinance – first used to vet and govern Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates’ 500-foot twin giants, which were approved last year – convinced her “visualization” isn’t one of the criteria.
“They met all the criteria,” George said.
She said when she reviewed the factors leading to her vote at the hearing, “I thought I succumbed to the residents’ plight.”
Councilor Philip Devlin said he was concerned about the “visual impact on the community.”
At the Feb. 27 hearing, Robert McKechnie gave voice to a widely held objection that the turbine would be a view defiler. His home on Wolf Hill to the north commands a breathtaking view of the lower reaches of the Annisquam, including the site on which Bell intends to construct his turbine next to an 80,000 square foot office building.
He showed the committee a photo taken from his home that illustrated his point.
A crane (standing in for the turbine, in a demonstration organized by Bell) was in the middle of the photo.
David McKechnie, who also lives on Wolf Hill, said, “this will affect hundreds of people’s view” of the Annisquam.
Fred O’Dea of Bellvue Avenue agreed with the McKechnies.
“Sunsets from my house are great, and what does this do to the value of my house and the neighborhoods?” he asked.
Not all the public opinion was against the turbine. Tom Carpenter of Griffen Court, just east of the building site off Emerson Avenue, argued that rejecting wind turbines based on aesthetics would mean “they won’t fit anywhere in Gloucester.”
“It’s not written into anyone’s deed that they will have a beautiful view of the river or the harbor,” George told the Times.
Safety is what Hardy, chairwoman of the committee, said concerned her most. “Safety and setbacks are more personal take,” she told the Times.
“No tower will snap at its base, but if it did, it would fall into an abutter’s property,” she said.
The abutter is Keyspan, which owns a thin strip of rocky terrain between the tower location and the Gloucester Transit Mix property, just south of the commuter rail tracks.
“The building is not up yet,” Hardy said. “Move it (the turbine) back” was her recommendation.
Project attorney Lisa Mead said construction on the Keyspan land was virtually impossible because of its location and dimensions. In addition, she noted, Gloucester Transit has an easement across the Keyspan strip.
The building and turbine were designed for the National Marine Fisheries Service’s regional headquarters. That competition raged two to three years ago before the parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, decided to put the offices in Blackburn Industrial Park.
Bell’s niche in the competition was environmentally extra green. The roof of the low-slung, three-story building, seemingly inspired by stealth airplane technology, is to be planted and mowed.
Bell said resolving the turbine issue will help secure the tenant.
“We need to have our green ducks in order,” he said.
He said the size of the building would mean “several hundred jobs” for the local economy.
The turbine is projected to cost $750,000, for which Bell said he has a $400,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Factoring in the grant, he said the turbine would pay for itself in three to five years.
Varian’s twin turbines, approved last year after lengthy hearings, would rise nearly 500 feet to the tip of the blades, as high as a 30-story building. They would be the largest in the state, but because of their location, near the high point and center of the cape, they would not interrupt views of the seashore.
Installation will not occur for a year or more because of worldwide demand for the turbines.
Varian is the cape’s largest company with more than 1,000 employees at their corporate offices and manufacturing center.
By Richard Gaines
21 March 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding