FREEDOM – Residents on both sides of the debate over the commercial development review ordinance gathered Tuesday night at the Grange Hall for a public hearing.
Residents will vote June 10 by secret ballot referendum on the question, “Shall an ordinance entitled Town of Freedom Commercial Development Review Ordinance be enacted with all of its provisions being retroactive to June 12, 2007?”
Several residents on both sides of the issue stood up to explain their opinions. Of those who were in favor of reinstating the ordinance, most emphasized a need for protection, both for individual property owners and for the town as a whole.
Carrie Bennett said that without any guidelines, there is no way to force developers to pay for road damage they might cause, or to decommission a project after it has been abandoned or stopped. She said the town’s tax dollars would have to pay for those things. Erin Bennett-Wade, who owns property that abuts the Beaver Ridge wind farm site, said that without the ordinance, she felt extremely vulnerable to reductions in both her property value and property rights.
Steven Bennett agreed, saying that he fears the quality of life of those living near the project will be changed forever if the windmill project is allowed to go forward without the guidelines set forth in the ordinance. Another resident said property owners have the right to live in peace on their land, and that businesses need to respect that right.
Residents opposed to the ordinance repeatedly stated that it is too restrictive. The pro-ordinance speakers acknowledged that the ordinance isn’t perfect, but felt it is better than no ordinance at all.
“It’s the only option we have right now,” Carrie Bennett said. “We can fix it later, but we need it now.”
Jeff Keating, who started the petition that put the ordinance question on the ballot, said he needs to know developers will abide by certain rules, and he wants those rules in writing.
Diane Winn, a proprietor of bird rehabilitation hospital Avian Haven, talked about noise, which many pro-windmill residents described as a chief concern. Winn said that as a wildlife hospital, Avian Haven is very sensitive to noise, and that the wind turbines on Beaver Ridge, which are located about a mile from the hospital, would bother both the birds and the people who are nursing them back to health. She also said wind turbines kill birds, frequently by dismemberment, and the presence of the turbines would prevent Avian Haven from being able to release rehabilitated birds in the area. She said the business, which has been in Freedom for nearly 10 years, would not be able to continue running if the windmill project goes ahead as currently planned.
“We enthusiastically and rather desperately support the reenactment of this ordinance,” Winn said.
Others were just as adamant that the ordinance not be reenacted. Many felt the ordinance would harm local small and home-based businesses. Several speakers commended the planning board for working hard on the ordinance, but felt that it did not fit the town of Freedom.
“We would do well to leave it right where it is,” said Freedom Selectman Chairman Ron Price.
Price said that due to the lengthy, expensive application process that is set forth in the ordinance, potential developers would have to be rich. He said he figured out how much the application for a building permit would be for a 24-hour truck repair facility, and came out with a figure of over $13,000 to do the basic groundwork for the application. He and fellow anti-ordinance resident Glen Bridges both said that the town should not be anti-business.
Price said that Freedom has a limited tax base, and that the town would benefit from some commercial development that would increase that base. He said town finances are not good, and that it is getting harder to come up with the yearly budget using just property taxes.
Bridges was the last person to speak on the anti-ordinance side, and she said the pro-ordinance people were not giving their real reasons for wanting to reinstate it. She said the fact is people want to bring back the ordinance to kill the wind farm project on Beaver Ridge.
“If it were true that protection is what they want, then why wasn’t it okay when the windmills were approved and the ordinance was still in place?” Bridges asked.
Pro-ordinance speaker Steve Bennett said the windmill project was appealed previously due to inadequate safety setbacks, the fact that the project’s sound study was done by someone who had never been to Freedom, and the fact that the planning board waived the decommissioning requirement for the project.
Bennett said he did not believe the reinstatement of the ordinance would kill the windmill project.
“I’m under no illusion that reinstating the ordinance will stop the turbines from coming to Freedom,” he said, adding that the ordinance would set some standards and offer some protection for the town.
Bennett disagreed with Price’s assertion that commercial development will bring tax dollars to the town. He said that since the town has no legally binding written agreement with the developers at Beaver Ridge, there is no guarantee that the town will get money.
“We have nothing,” Bennett said.
Bridges argued that the developers have put their commitments in writing, in a letter to the town, which she believes is “every bit as good as a legal document.”
Several residents pointed out that the planning board is already working on a new commercial development review ordinance. Freedom Code Enforcement Officer Jay Guber, one of the final speakers of the evening, said he has seen the town torn apart and people made enemies by the issue. He said somewhere along the line there is a happy medium between restriction and complete freedom, and ended his speech by stating that the ordinance should be revised.
By Megan Richardson
29 May 2008
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