Vermont-based Laurel Hill Wind Energy LLC has been granted a zoning permit to build electricity-generating wind turbines in northern Lycoming County, county zoning administrator Fred G. Pfeiffer said Wednesday.
The company plans to build the turbines along a seven-mile section of the Laurel Hill ridge in Jackson and McIntyre townships.
A zoning permit is required for any development or change of use of a property to ensure it is permitted in that zoning district and complies with zoning regulations.
According to Pfeiffer, the company and residents living near the proposed development were notified of the decision in a letter dated May 9.
Those opposed to the permit have 30 days from that date to file an appeal with the county Zoning Hearing Board, he said.
Anybody whose property abuts the proposed development or considers themselves “an aggrieved party” may appeal the permit, he said.
“You can’t appeal it just because you don’t like it,” Planning Commission executive director Kurt Hausammann Jr. said. “You need to find some factual issue or error with the permit itself because (wind turbines) are a permitted use in that particular district.”
Until recently,wind energy development in a resource protection zone could only allowed by a special exception permit granted by the Zoning Hearing Board.
That changed last November when the county commissioners approved an amendment to the county zoning ordinance that allowed wind turbines in resource protections zones by right.
The company initially proposed the wind project about four years ago and applied for a special exception permit from the zoning hearing board. After a hearing that lasted almost 18 months, the board denied the application.
Following the hearing, county planning staff, notably former Planning Commission executive director Jerry S. Walls, recommended changing the zoning ordinance in an effort to “clarify” it as it pertains to wind energy.
According to Walls, the ordinance was unclear regarding wind energy development. That contributed to the prolonged and costly hearing involving the proposed wind farm. The hearing cost the county more than $100,000, Walls said.
The next step for the company is to submit land development plans for approval to the county Planning Commission, Pfeiffer said.
Hausammann said when the company submits land development plans, the plans could be approved, denied or approved with conditions. If the company submits plans in June, the Planning Commission could make a decision on the plans by its July meeting at the earliest, but most likely, at its August meeting, he said.
Robert Charlebois, managing director of Laurel Hill Wind Energy LLC’s parent company Catamount Energy Corp., said he anticipates submitting land development plans in June.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Charlebois said of the zoning application approval. “Four years is a long time.”
According to Pfeiffer, the company must comply with county zoning regulations regarding commercial wind turbines before it can be given a certificate of occupancy and begin operation.
“There are still a considerable number of issues that need to be demonstrated before they can actually turn those things on,” he said.
By David Thompson
15 May 2008
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