MANCHESTER – The Planning Board will wait till next year to try to pass a bylaw governing the construction of wind turbines, after determining this week that the version making its way to Town Meeting still needs work.
While a windmill bylaw will appear on the warrant, board members will request that Town Meeting take no action this year.
The board has been crafting the bylaw for months, out of a desire to streamline the permitting process for property owners interested in building turbines, while giving the board control over the turbines’ size and where they can be located.
Last year the board was faced with a proposal from John Donovan, the owner of Manchester Athletic Club, to build a turbine on his Atwater Avenue property. The board realized existing town bylaws did not account for windmills and any applicant looking to build one would have to seek a daunting series of variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The new bylaw would give the Planning Board the authority to issue special permits for windmill projects in the town’s Limited Commercial District, north of Route 128, and free them from having to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals. At the same time it would set limits for, among other things, tower height, paint scheme, distance from the nearest property line, and percentage of the power generated by a project that would have to be used on site.
At a public hearing last week, the board fielded numerous suggestions, both large and small, on how the bylaw could be improved, including statements from Donovan that the setback and power usage restrictions would be too burdensome to make a project on his land viable.
On Monday, the board met with planning consultant Jonathan Witten and Town Moderator Alan Wilson to discuss which parts of the bylaw should, or could, be amended and decided there were too many issues, both substantial ones and language-related, to explain on the floor of Town Meeting.
“There were a number of things that needed changing,” co-Chairman Richard Blau said Tuesday. “In the time frame allowed it would have been difficult to accomplish.”
A statement released by the board yesterday said more work on improving the bylaw, including additional public hearings, would begin soon with the intention of having a new bylaw ready and tested well before Town Meeting next year.
“In the coming months the board will integrate appropriate revisions and language to make the (Wind Energy Conversion Facilities) bylaw a priority to present for consideration by voters at a subsequent Town Meeting,” the statement said.
Planning Board member Gary Gilbert said the fact that the Manchester Athletic Club is not scheduled to begin construction of its windmill – if it goes ahead with it – for another year and no other applicants have come forward looking to build a turbine yet, encouraged the board to take its time with the bylaw.
Gilbert said that, although no formal vote had been taken, he sensed a consensus on the board about making changes to the setback and on-site usage requirements.
“There was consensus on the big issues; it was more of the small ones that were an issue,” Gilbert said. “We are trying to make a good generic bylaw that will work for the town, not just for one project.”
Gilbert said when the board takes up the bylaw again after Town Meeting, it may look to expand it to include residential windmills instead of just commercial projects.
Attempts to reach officials at Manchester Athletic Club for comment yesterday were unsucessful.
By Patrick Anderson
3 April 2008
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