FREEDOM – Voters will get another chance to reinstate the commercial-development review ordinance that was tossed out last year.
Selectmen agreed during Wednesday’s meeting to approve a petition seeking a vote to reinstate the ordinance retroactive to June of 2007.
The vote to reinstate the ordinance will be included on the June ballot.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Jeff Keating, who circulated the petition.
It is unclear how the ordinance, if reinstated, would affect Portland-based Competitive Energy Service’s permit to build three electricity generating wind turbines on Beaver Ridge.
Town Attorney William Kelly, in a letter to selectmen, said the project would at least be in jeopardy.
“The existing building permit issued to CES/Beaver Ridge could be challenged based on the argument that it has expired, as technically defective or any number of creative arguments that lawyers are paid to advance,” Kelly wrote. “I could foresee the argument that the retroactive application of the commercial development ordinance would trump any vested rights in the building permit or development process claimed by CES/Beaver Ridge, depending on whether or not work has substantially commenced on site.”
Abutters to the proposed project have already argued that the building permit issued this summer should be withdrawn because Competitive Energy has not done enough work on site to satisfy requirements in the building ordinance.
Abutters have asked the town’s board of appeals to rule on the argument.
Selectman Ron Price, who owns the property where the turbines will be built, stepped from behind the selectmen’s table and into the audience to speak to the board. Price said he has no problem with allowing the vote, but feels the ordinance is too cumbersome for a small town like Freedom.
“I don’t think this town needs that ordinance,” Price said.
The Commercial Development Review Ordinance was developed and adopted in 2006 after Competitive Energy submitted an application to erect the 400-foot turbines.
The planning board initially determined that the project met the requirements of the ordinance, but the board of appeals subsequently ruled that the turbines would not meet noise standards and that Competitive Energy had not met requirements for a decommissioning bond.
Residents at a special town meeting in June voted to rescind the ordinance, thus opening the door for Competitive Energy to apply for a permit under the much more lenient building ordinance.
Beaver Ridge Wind, a subsidiary formed by Competitive Energy, was approved to begin construction last summer.
The first petition to force a vote on reinstatement was rejected in February because it had been circulated and submitted without a copy of the ordinance attached.
Selectmen delayed a vote on a second petition when lawyers for Competitive Energy argued it should be rejected because it would reopen a debate voters had recently settled.
But there was nothing forcing selectmen’s hand, Kelly wrote.
“Citizens’ petitions must be respected as the most fundamental democratic action we see in rural Maine,” he wrote. “However, the relative inexperience of petitioners calls for elected officials to apply experience and judgment to review proposed petition language.”
Selectmen Carol Richardson and Tim Biggs approved the petition, though not necessarily because they support reinstating the ordinance, Richardson said.
“I think we all have our rights to vote whether we approve of the project or not,” she said.
4 April 2008
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