A zoning law for the town of Charlotte was pushed closer recently after a lengthy meeting during which the Town Board reviewed and accepted the final draft of the proposed zoning program.
With plans for a wind turbine development confined to the wings until zoning is in place, officials say they are hopeful the law can be enacted in June.
The Town Board capped the two-hour review with an authorization of the municipality’s attorney, William Duncanson, to complete the required State Environmental Quality Review.
In a comment following the session, Duncanson said the environmental project “will probably take at least two months to complete.’’
In addition, he said the data must be reviewed and approved by the county before the Town Board can move ahead with a public hearing and action on the proposed zoning plan.
During the session, officials came up with a number of queries and comments as they leafed through the final draft of the 89-page document. Duncanson and Dave Crossley, the town’s building code officer –both of whom worked closely with the Charlotte Zoning Commission – were on hand to field questions and provide clarifications. Also helping out was commission member, James Pavlock.
A discussion on proposed regulations governing Wind Energy Conservation System projects, ended with two changes to setback distances for wind towers. The matter was brought up by Councilwoman Varsi Peterson, who urged greater setback distances. Peterson said she was particularly concerned about proposed setbacks of 500 feet from the nearest public road, and 1,000 feet from the foundation of the “nearest primary structure.’’
“I believe those figures should be changed from 500 to 1,000 feet, and from 1,000 to 1,500 feet, respectively. With wind towers of more than 400 feet involved, those setbacks just aren’t enough,’’ she said. Councilman Henry Harper said he too was concerned. “I think we should have more of a cushion in those two setbacks,” he said. “But, I wouldn’t support any other (setback) changes.’’
After some discussion, Councilman Kenneth Bochmann asked Peterson to consider a compromise, which would expand the setbacks to 750 feet and 1,250 feet, respectively.
“I’d like to go with the distances I suggested,” she said. But, at least these figures would be more adequate than what we have now.’’
Crossley said the setbacks were all adequate, and noted that those related to wetlands were well within requirements of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The board later voted to support Peterson’s request and it was agreed the two setbacks would be changed to reflect the 750-foot and 1,250-foot figures.
Turning to another change, Duncanson pointed out the lead agency for the SEQR would be the Town Board, as per the board’s request. Originally, he said, the Zoning Board of Appeals had been listed as the lead agency.
Duncanson said the final draft also included a section governing woodlot management. The item, included within the town’s comprehensive plan, was inadvertently omitted from earlier drafts of the zoning plan, the attorney said.
Proposed zoning regulations would require individual landowners or groups of landowners to obtain special use permits for clear-cutting projects of woodlots involving more than 20 acres and the removal of 80 percent of the trees on those tracts. In turn, the permits would require those landowners to submit an acceptable plan of land remediation to protect nearby properties from soil erosion, runoff, and other problems.
Harper said he had initially opposed the section, “but now I completely support it … We’ve never had anyone clear that amount land or cut that amount of timber, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.’’
The session ended with Mrs. Peterson’s request that the board consider the possibility of a second legal review of the zoning section dealing with wind energy systems. “The zoning commission – with the help and leadership of Bill (Duncanson) and Dave (Crossley) – have come up with a good plan, and their work as volunteers has saved the town thousands of dollars,” she said. “But, a second review makes sense when we’re dealing with a project as complex as a wind energy system.” According to figures submitted to the board by Peterson, the legal service could be provided for about $400 per hour.
The councilwoman said she had learned that a number of communities were opting for second reviews of regulations dealing specifically with wind systems. The official said she also had been informed that the town would ultimately be reimbursed for any costs involved by the wind energy company after the firm’s application to operate a wind energy system is submitted to the Town Board. In the meantime, Peterson said it was her understanding that the cost would be held in escrow.
Noting the town’s zoning law was not yet in place, and that there could be no agreement at this time with the energy company, Duncanson said he was “completely against” undertaking the legal review. There is no way this expense would be covered by the company,’’ he said.
At that point, town resident, Merle Goot said UPC Wind Management – selected about three months ago by town property owners to develop a town wind energy project – had only recently established its first meteorology tower. Data must be obtained for one year before “the project can move forward,’’ he said.
“I think we have a good plan,” Supervisor Gary Sargent said, “and I think another review could mean a sizeable financial risk for the town.’’
Bochmann recommended a second review be reconsidered at a later date, “at a time when we are further along in the process.’’ The councilman also suggested Peterson come up with data on communities that already had completed such projects.
Peterson then ended the discussion with a pledge to obtain further information, which she said would be presented to the board at a later date.
By Alpha Husted
8 April 2008
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