MANCHESTER – The Planning Board is looking to change sections of a proposed bylaw governing the use of wind power projects that its members acknowledge might make building a windmill in the town unfeasible.
On Monday the board fielded comments and suggestions on the bylaw from the public.
The comments included statements from Manchester Athletic Club owner John Donovan that sections of the bylaw mandating setback distances and on-site usage of the power generated would be “fatal” to his plan to build a turbine on his Atwater Avenue property.
In response to the comments and their own concerns, the board has compiled a list of potential changes to the bylaw and will review them with town planning consultant Jonathan Witten this week to see how many are possible through amendment at Town Meeting.
Town Meeting rules generally discourage large, substantive changes to articles by amendments. Typically, only changes that reduce the scope or impact of an article are allowed.
The bylaw, as currently written, would allow the Planning Board to issue special permits for developers looking to build wind power projects in the town’s Limited Commercial District north of Route 128. The measure would set limits on how high they can be, how far they must be from the nearest property line and would give the board broad discretion to deny projects based on appearance and environmental impact.
Without the bylaw, landowners looking to build a windmill would need a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals in addition to Planning Board approval.
Another provision of the bylaw, designed as a limit to the size of potential windmills, would require projects to use at least 50 percent of the power they generate on-site.
The Planning Board began working on the bylaw after the Manchester Athletic Club approached it for guidance about building a windmill between 200 and 300 feet high. The owners were worried there were no guidelines for what would be allowed in the town bylaws.
On Monday, Donovan said the 50 percent usage requirement, which could limit how much generated energy from his turbine he could sell back to the power grid, would end his interest in trying to build one in Manchester.
“If you look at the history of wind turbines and what made them viable, it was being able to sell back into the grid,” Donovan said. “There are so many variables, you are going to make this impossible. It appears that the best way to limit the size would be to limit the size.”
Donovan also said the current setback requirement, which would have all windmills be 50 feet more than the height of the structure away from the nearest property line, would kill his project.
Planning Board member Gary Gilbert yesterday said there were around eight changes to the bylaw the board was considering, including the setback and 50 percent sellback requirements.
Gilbert said he was strongly in favor of removing the 50 percent sellback requirement and thought it had a good chance of being allowed at Town Meeting.
“There was support for removing the 50-foot additional setback, but we don’t think the town moderator will allow it,” Gilbert said. “The 50 percent usage could also be removed and we are pretty sure that could be changed.”
Gilbert said changes to the bylaw could also be made next year.
The Manchester Athletic Club is not planning to build its turbine for at least another year.
Planning Board Chairman Richard Blau said during Monday’s meeting that the board was working methodically and cautiously through the bylaw to allow wind power projects while not jeopardizing the interest of residents.
“Once we permit something and allow it, it is much easier to enlarge a right than take a right away,” Blau said.
Blau said yesterday the board would talk to Witten about what changes were possible this week and then meet next Monday to vote on what amendments to make at Town Meeting.
By Patrick Anderson
26 March 2008
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