GALLATIN–The Town Zoning Board of Appeals decided it needs more time to review the controversial Buckwheat Bridge Angoras area variance application for a 135-foot-tall wind turbine before determining what height will be allowed.
Also, ZBA Chairman Fred Simoncini recused himself from further consideration of the application when the public hearing on the matter resumed May 13.
Dr. Daniel Melamed, a urologist, is the owner/operator of Buckwheat Bridge Angoras, a 200-acre farm at 111 Kozlowski Road, where he raises angora goats and Cormo sheep.
A solar-powered spinning mill on the farm processes mohair and fiber from the animals into wool and yarn. The wool and yarn are sold, as are socks made from the materials.
Dr. Melamed says he needs more power than is generated by his solar panels to run his mill on a more full-time basis. He proposes to generate that power–20 kilowatts–by putting up a wind turbine with a 120-foot tower and 3 15-foot-long blades for a maximum height of 135 feet.
The town zoning law will allow the windmill, but only at a height of 75 feet, which is why the doctor has applied for a variance. His application has been before the ZBA since October 2006.
Some Gallatin residents oppose the wind turbine for reasons that include fears that it will ruin their view and lower their property values, create a hazard to their health and that it will be noisy. Some also say that it is not necessary to the farm operation.
In a March letter to Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons, the town’s special counsel on this issue, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets decreed that the town cannot require Buckwheat Bridge Angoras to obtain a special use permit or site plan approval because it unreasonably restricts the farm operation, a violation of Ag and Markets Law.
But the state does allow the town to regulate the height of the wind turbine tower.
The public hearing, which began April 8, resumed Tuesday, May 13. Attorney Fitzsimmons said the board received a letter from Gallatin resident Ira Levy objecting to Chairman Simoncini’s hearing of the matter because Mr. Simoncini’s company had previously done construction work at Dr. Melamed’s residence.
There is no ongoing relationship between Mr. Simoncini and the applicant and he said he could be fair, but he recused himself, saying that he had to think about the public perception and what was best for the community.
Richard Humphries was designated acting chairman.
The town’s engineering firm, Morris Associates, sent the board a letter saying a shorter tower would achieve Dr. Melamed’s desired result. The company said that if the applicant wants a 135-foot height, he needs to submit further data.
Dr. Melamed challenged that conclusion and criticized the committee responsible for revising the town zoning ordinance, noting that the ordinance allows a cell tower to be 199 feet tall but limits wind turbines to 75 feet. He called that distinction “arbitrary.”
Mr. Simoncini, who moved his seat from the front of the room with the board to the audience, said he served on the committee and the number was based on “what the community would stand visually to look at” and the fact that the only existing windmills were 30 feet high and were used to pump water, not windmills that would generate electricity.
Mr. Fitzsimmons said that Dr. Melamed had not provided his viewpoints on statutory factors the board has to consider to arrive at a decision. The factors include: whether an undesirable change would be produced and whether benefits sought by the applicant can be achieved by a feasible alternative.
Dr. Melamed said he filled out all the required forms in 2006 and said the ZBA had unfairly changed the application process mid-stream.
When asked if a 135-foot wind turbine would produce enough power and qualify him for a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant, Dr. Melamed said the grant was a separate issue and that the 135-feet high wind turbine would meet his needs.
But Robert Somers, manager of the Farmland Protection Unit at Ag and Markets, said that NYSERDA has never funded a wind turbine project that was less than 100 feet high.
The board agreed that each member needed to receive and study all communications that have come in since the last meeting and still needed to hear from the engineer about recommendations on new information.
A complete copy of the application must still be sent to the Columbia County Planning Department for its review as well.
Dr. Melamed asked the board to close the public hearing and accused board members of “postponing things.”
Mr. Fitzsimmons said that the board still needs to receive recommendations on new information and allow the public to comment on it.
The public hearing was continued until June 10.
By Diane Valden
16 May 2008