RICHMONDVILLE – The town Zoning Board of Appeals will ask Schoharie County for a recommendation on Reunion Power’s request to keep its wind-measuring tower on Warnerville Hill for another year.
The ZBA’s decision to seek the advice of the county followed a 90-minute hearing where most speakers, including an attorney for Schoharie Valley Watch, a tower opponent, argued that the original permit allowing the tower violated zoning and should not have been issued.
Reunion Power Managing Director Steve Eisenberg said another year was needed to obtain an accurate measurement of wind conditions at the David Huse farm site leased to the Vermont-based company for the 197-foot-high tower.
The first 12 months of measuring the electricity-generating potential at the Karker Road site produced data that was “potentially promising,” Eisenberg told the ZBA, but another year is needed to evaluate potential long-term wind variations.
As part of Reunion’s application, regional company representative Sandy Gordon submitted letters from three meteorological “experts” indicating more than one-year of testing is typically needed.
Gordon is an Albany County legislator from Berne.
Asked after the hearing for specifics about wind findings, Eisenberg said the data “was proprietary” to the private wind power management company.
“It’s promising,” Eisenberg said, “but it turned out weaker than certain forecasts.”
Town Code Enforcement Officer Gene DeMarco said he was only authorized to issue a temporary permit for one year. That permit expired May 1.
Under ZBA permit extension rules, applicants must prove they would sustain “hardship” if a nonconforming permit was denied.
“It’s to inform a business decision. … It’s not the town’s problem,” said Schoharie Valley Watch Co-director Robert Nied. “It’s a self-inflicted hardship … by speculating on a project in Richmondville,” Nied said.
SVW Co-director Don Airey argued that Reunion only applied for an extension after the group claimed in March that the original permit was invalid.
Much of the comment at the hearing concerned whether or not Reunion is planning a wind turbine project under which a temporary structure might be legally permitted.
“It’s a question of how zoning is enforced,” said Schoharie Valley Watch attorney Peter Henner. An environmental law specialist, Henner said the tower should not have been allowed in the residential R-1 zone, because it was not “incidental to a housing or construction project,” under zoning regulations.
“The Town Board doesn’t seem to know there’s a project,” said Airey, referring to repeated statements by current Supervisor John Barlow and former supervisor Betsy Bernocco that no project is under discussion.
“If [the tower permit is ancillary to] a project, then a project does exist,” Airey contended.
DeMarco contended the tower was authorized in an R-1 zone “as a temporary structure … as a nonconforming use.”
Even though no formal wind turbine project has been applied for by Reunion, DeMarco compared the measuring tower to soil borings or water tests in connection with other types of building projects.
Aside from Reunion representatives, the only speaker supporting the permit was Brooker Hollow resident Vernon Hall, a member of the Richmondville Board of Assessment Review. Hall, who said he’s worked on residential wind power projects, said the technology was needed in the face of global warming issues.
In Reunion’s application for an extension, Gordon compared the “meteorological tower” to an “observation tower” that he said was allowed under zoning, but several speakers questioned whether it met that description.
“My concern is setting a precedent,” said Robert “Jack” Gosselink, one of 11 neighboring property owners near Huse’s farm.
“I value the privacy we have,” said Gosselink, an outspoken opponent of any commercial windmill project in the Warnerville Hill area.
“I want peace and quiet,” said Theresa Pagnotta. “I don’t think this company should come in and tell us what to do.”
Once the county Planning and Development Agency makes a recommendation on the permit application, ZBA Chairman Bruce Loveys said the arguments raised at Tuesday’s hearings will be considered in detail. If the county recommends the tower permit be extended, then the five-member ZBA will need a “super majority” of four members to overrule it, Loveys said.
By R. J. Kelly
14 May 2008
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