BARRINGTON – Critics of a plan to build a wind turbine at the high school are adding zoning concerns to their list of objections to the project, which town officials say they want to relocated to a piece of town-owned land on Brickyard Pond at the end of Legion Way.
But the Town Council president counters that those concerns are groundless because the town is not bound by its own zoning bylaw.
That objection, and some of the others raised in the debate so far, would make it virtually impossible to erect a large turbine anywhere in Barrington, even though most critics claim to support alternative energy.
The town has until the end of the year to close a deal on the turbine if it wants to take advantage of a $2.1-million interest-free loan being offered by the IRS. Officials are checking to see if the IRS will endorse shifting the location from the school to Legion Way.
The council is seeking proposals for both sites. They will be opened on Aug. 18.
The zoning objections have been raised – but not aggressively – in earlier Town Council and School Committee meetings.
But now William R. Landry, a lawyer representing Kathleen A. Shafer, who lives near the high school, and her neighbors, have written to the town vowing to sue in Superior Court if Barrington officials try to declare that zoning rules don’t apply to the high school site.
The letter makes no reference to the Legion Way proposal.
Not only is a wind turbine not permitted on school property, said Landry, “the maximum height of the proposed structure (in excess of 300 feet) is almost ten times greater than the maximum height limitation in the OS-A zone for a principal structure, and almost 20 times greater than the maximum height limitation for an accessory structure like a wind turbine.”
In addition, he predicted, the turbine “will vastly exceed the limitations of the town’s noise ordinance.”
Landry said the town is trying to argue that the zoning ordinance doesn’t apply because the turbine would be a “proprietary” function of government.
“Municipalities only enjoy an exception from their own zoning ordinances as to ‘truly government’ functions as opposed to ‘proprietary government functions,’ ” he said. “The operation of a wind turbine to supply power to a building is clearly not an activity [like fire protection, police, or prisons] reserved almost exclusively to the government.”
“I disagree, and the town’s lawyers disagree,” said council president Jeffrey Brenner. “Intellectually, I understand his argument. I just disagree with it.”
Brenner said a good example is the police and fire station, which “was built in a way that was completely not conforming to the zoning codes back in 1999. It was right on top of the roadway. It goes into wetland. But because it’s a government function, it’s exempt from the zoning ordinance.”
And generating power for the schools is a government function, he said.
Brenner predicted that if the town decides to go with the Legion Way site, which is more than 1,000 feet from any residence, “I think this [issue] goes away.”
By C. Eugene Emery Jr.
Journal Staff Writer
29 July 2008
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