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Commissioners may change ordinance to comply with turbine industry standards

At least two of the three Fayette County commissioners are interested in amending the county’s zoning ordinance to increase the allowable height of wind turbines to match the current industry standards.

Commissioner Vincent Zapotosky said Monday he supports an initiative by Commissioner Angela M. Zimmerlink to increase the height referenced in the zoning ordinance.

“It should be done to reflect the standard. We need to amend it,” Zapotosky said.

Zimmerlink’s proposal, which is listed on the agenda for today’s meeting, is to begin the steps to amend the county’s zoning ordinance to increase the height of wind turbines to reflect the industry standard of 262.5 feet.

Commissioner Vincent A. Vicites said Monday that he would “certainly consider” the agenda item.

“I think our ordinance at the time it passed reflected the industry standard, but that has since changed,” Vicites said.

Earlier this year, the county zoning hearing board denied a special exception request to allow windmills to be constructed in Georges and Springhill townships, although the county zoning ordinance allows windmills to harness electricity that are up to 250 feet in height. The company was seeking a 12.5-foot variance from height requirements and reduction in setback requirements for some of the 18 proposed wind turbines.

The issue is under appeal by PPM Atlantic/Iberdrola Renewables. A hearing is slated for July 31, but a proposed settlement is being circulated as a means to resolve the case.

Zapotosky said the denial earlier this year was partly because of the height difference between the zoning ordinance and current industry standards.

Zimmerlink explained that although the commissioners are the governing body of the zoning ordinance, it is the role of the planning commission to make recommendations and hold public meetings to consider amendments to the ordinance.

“I placed the item on the commissioners agenda to determine if a majority wish to seek a recommendation from the planning commission on amending the section of the zoning ordinance which defines the height restrictions of commercial windmills and wind turbines,” Zimmerlink said.

Dave Bukovan, zoning chief of the Fayette County Office of Planning, Zoning and Community Development, said the procedure to amend the zoning ordinance includes drafting an amendment with the changes to present to the planning commission.

After the planning commission makes a recommendation, the commissioners schedule a public hearing on the proposed change and can vote at the next regularly scheduled meeting after the public hearing, Bukovan said.

“Because the commissioners recently became aware that its zoning ordinance allows for commercial windmills/wind turbines to have a height from the top not to exceed 250 feet, not including the blades we have been made aware that is contrary to industry standards, which call for height of 262.5 feet,” Zimmerlink said.

“If the county, under the direction of the commissioners, plans to continue administering county-wide zoning for most of its 42 municipalities, the commissioners have an obligation to ensure that its zoning ordinances are within the county’s development objectives, are applied consistently and are not contradictory to general standards so as to not hamper growth while keeping in mind the property rights of landowners,” Zimmerlink said.

Zapotosky and Zimmerlink voted earlier this year to intervene in the case on behalf of the county to ensure the zoning board did not rule legislatively.

Vicites was against intervening in the Atlantic PPM case, saying the court should handle it.

The commissioners also will act today on proposals to enact a voter purge as well as initiate a pay study for all non-union county employees.

Last month, all three commissioners voted to support a voter purge. Zimmerlink said in May 2006 the county mailed out 21,142 letters to registered voters, informing them of the new voting system, which led to removing more than 1,000 names.

Zimmerlink said the open issue is how to fund the purge.

Vicites said the purge should be completed before the November election, adding that he initially pushed to have it placed on the agenda.

“We need to move forward. We have identified funding,” Vicites said. “The voter purge is the top priority in the election bureau in my opinion.”

Zapotosky said money from the sale of some of the county’s electronic voting machines could be used to pay for the purge. He said the only outstanding issue is to ensure the county follows federal requirements regarding when the purge can be done.

All three commissioners have talked about the need for a pay study to address pay inequities in various departments where union employees are making close to or more than non-union management employees.

The agenda item calls for advertising for professional services under the request for qualification to conduct a pay scale study for the current staff complement of non-union employees.

Vicites said the pay study is something the county needs to carry out. He said it is a step-by-step process and it has to be properly budgeted.

Judge Conrad Capuzzi and Michelle Grant Shumar, head of the Fayette County Office of Human and Community Services and Fayette Area Coordinated Transportation, have separately raised the issue at county salary board meetings.

If the motions are approved today, the commissioners will vote to take action on them during Thursday’s monthly meeting.

By Amy Zalar


22 July 2008