A windmill developer is offering to relocate equipment and establish a scholarship in an effort to settle a zoning dispute stalling the project in Fayette County.
The proposal from PPM Atlantic Renewable Energy Corp. of Portland, Ore., calls for the company to remove one of the turbines from the project and to make other unspecified modifications that were requested by neighboring landowners.
In addition, PPM is offering to establish a $12,000 annual county scholarship fund in exchange for Fayette County’s zoning hearing board dropping its opposition to the project.
PPM wants to place 27 wind-powered turbines over a 3.5-mile section of Chestnut Ridge in Wharton, Georges and Springhill townships. The turbines would generate electricity for PPM’s South Chestnut Ridge Windpower Project.
The project was halted March 11, when the zoning board rejected PPM’s request for a special exception for 24 of the turbines. PPM has appealed the board’s decision in Fayette County Court, with a hearing slated for 9:30 a.m. July 31 before Judge Ralph Warman.
According to a copy of the proposal, the agreement will require the approval of five entities with interests in the project: the zoning hearing board, county commissioners, PPM and two landowners with properties located next to the proposed windmills.
Jim Killinger, chairman of the zoning hearing board, said Wednesday he hasn’t seen the developer’s offer. Regardless, he said he “won’t sign anything.” He deferred additional comment to the board’s solicitor, Gretchen Mundorff.
Mundorff said the board stands by its decision.
“The zoning hearing board made its decision based in law and according to the evidence presented,” Mundorff said. “The board believes its decision was sound and intends to argue the case before Judge Warman on July 31.”
Two county commissioners, Vincent Zapotosky and Vincent Vicites, said they favor PPM’s proposal as long as it addresses neighboring property owners’ concerns over noise and lowered property values.
“I was very concerned and very determined to make sure the people who live around the turbines would be fairly dealt with when it came to how close the setbacks were,” Vicites said.
Gary Verkleeren, PPM project manager, said yesterday the proposal calls for the company to relocate one of the turbines so it is farther away from several homes than originally planned.
He acknowledged the concerns of at least one other resident who intervened in the case, Thomas Bozek of Georges, have not yet been addressed.
“I’m hopeful we can make him happy, too, but we also realize we can’t make everybody happy,” Verkleeren said.
Bozek’s attorney, Gary Altman, said yesterday even if the other parties sign off on the proposal, Bozek can proceed individually.
“He’s not bound by anything anyone else does,” Altman said.
Should the project ultimately proceed, Zapotosky said it’s an opportunity for Fayette to be at the forefront of alternative energy sources.
“This is not just about windmills in Fayette County,” Zapotosky said. “We all have to acknowledge and accept our personal responsibility in this approach to alternative energy. I’d rather be part of an innovation, as opposed to a follower.”
Zapotosky and Vicites said they want Solicitor Joseph Ferens to review the proposal before they’ll consider formal approval.
Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink said yesterday she’ll oppose PPM’s offer for a number of reasons, including because it fails to resolve certain questions regarding the zoning hearing board.
“The reason I agreed to intervene in the first place was for the county to decide if the zoning hearing board properly applied the zoning ordinance,” Zimmerlink said. “By failing to address that in the settlement stipulation, the commissioners are continuing to allow the zoning hearing board’s interpretation and application of the zoning ordinance to be in question.”
In addition, Zimmerlink likened the proposed scholarship fund to a “gratuity” that she feels is inappropriate to be included as part of settlement to a zoning dispute.
Zapotosky and Vicites disagreed.
“We’re not getting paid off,” Zapotosky said. “We’re going to be helping young people go to school.”
By Liz Zemba
17 July 2008
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