BEEKMANTOWN – Lawmakers were surprised with bad news following a 28-month-long debate over a wind-facilities law here.
Clinton County Planning Board disapproved of the Town of Beekmantown’s proposed law, which sought to allow residential, commercial and agricultural use of single wind-power turbines for the sole purpose of supporting the applicant with electricity. No re-sale of power for profit would have been allowed.
During the recent meeting, however, the Planning Board did approve an amendment to the town’s zoning law redefining “essential services.” This change removed wind turbines from essential, public utilities that could go in any zoned area.
However, it was the comments of disapproval that generated conversation in the group.
“I just don’t know how we spent all these hours coming up with this and still have problems,” said Town Councilor Sydney Sue Garrant.
“While I didn’t agree with a lot of the comments, I did appreciate them,” Attorney Matthew Fuller told the Town Council. “I’m very impressed with the level of detail that they (put) into this. I can’t say enough about it. It shows that they care, and as we go through this tonight, it’s certainly going to add to the dialogue.”
Under the proposed law, an applicant would review the criteria with the town’s codes enforcement officer. If they met the guidelines, they’d receive a permit. If not, they could appeal to the Town Council.
“This is a confusing method of administration,” Fuller read from the County Planning Board’s letter.
“Planning and zoning members would generally have more experience with reviewing development projects, have time to dedicate to the review and … are now required to receive 6 hours in yearly training in such matters.”
Fuller reiterated the advice he gave the council a few months ago.
“Those boards are somewhat insulated from the political process,” he said. “Town board members, themselves, realize that they don’t want to have that authority.”
The council disagreed.
“Because this is such a contentious issue, we agreed that it was something the town board wanted to control and not the zoning board,” Garrant said.
Clinton County planners cited a Beekmantown zoning regulation to make their case.
“The existing zoning regulations mention in section 115 that any conflicting regulation found in any other law should be ruled by the more restrictive regulations. In this case, the zoning regulations are stricter than the wind-energy law,” Fuller read.
“And, after the definition amendment, (it) will possibly ban wind energy from the town. This shows the importance of consolidating the zoning law and land-use regulations under one zoning law to reduce confusion for residents and those trying to administer the law.”
The proposed law had been built similar to the town’s existing Telecommunications Law, a stand-alone regulation that gives authority of review to the Town Council rather than the Zoning Board.
Fuller felt the existence of the Telecommunications Law warranted the same understanding for the new law, and the Town Council seemed to agree.
“Your existing zoning doesn’t even discuss wind energy,” Fuller said. “Again, on the cell-towers, how do you deal with that? There is not a zoning-law amendment that I’ve seen that discusses cell-towers. So under that, one person could say that cell towers are not allowed in the Town of Beekmantown?”
With definitions of terms and concerns for legal loopholes looming, the Town Council decided to put out another moratorium on wind-facility projects.
“This could take another few months. We go over all this, set up the public hearings again,” said Garrant with exasperation. “It could be October.”
A public work session will be held at the Beekmantown Town Hall tonight at 7.
By Lucas Blaise
7 July 2008
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