OCEAN CITY – A neighbor’s concerns over noise have put plans for Ocean City’s first backyard wind turbine on hold, as town officials await more information on just how loud the spinning blades will be.
Ocean City’s Planning and Zoning Commission decided to keep open a public hearing and reconvene within 60 days to conclude whether applicant Jim Motsko may proceed.
Resort officials passed a law in 2009 allowing residential wind turbines. Property owners can install roof- or pole-mounted wind turbines, as long as they meet noise and height restrictions, among other regulations. If approved, Motsko’s turbine would be the first.
“Because it’s the first time trying our new ordinance, you know, we want to get this right,” said Pam Buckley, commission chair. “We don’t want to have Jim here putting this thing in, and then we get so much noise and grief from it that he ends up having to pull it down or turn it off.”
Motsko has planned for two years to install a 39-foot-tall pole-mounted wind turbine at his Sixth Street bayfront home. With the 6-foot-wide fan blades, the tower height comes to 45 feet. It would be the first-ever residential power turbine for the resort.
At the hearing, Motsko faced opposition from his next-door neighbor, Robert Kenney.
Kenney said while he appreciates the environmental aspects of the project, he worries the turbine will be too loud, lower his property value and spoil his bayfront views.
“It’s one of the few places left in town that you can actually go hear, at any time, the lapping of the water on the rocks and the environment around you,” said Kenney, one of five unit owners of the adjacent Islander condominium building. “We would be devastated if that were no longer the case.”
“This is ground-breaking times,” he added, alluding to the novelty of the turbine. “But it’s also tough times – property values, everything else. There’s more than just the aesthetics of dealing with it. You’re going to impact a way of life on that property for the future.”
Kenney said he believes the spinning fan blades could produce noise as loud as a vacuum cleaner, which is calculated roughly at 70 decibels. A whisper-quiet library is measured at 30 db, regular conversation is 55-60 db, a lawnmower is 90 db and a jet engine is 140 db.
Stacey Hart, the engineer for the project, testified it would be very unlikely the fan would produce sound any louder than 40 decibels. Ocean City’s wind turbine law limits fan blades to 55 db.
It’s not just town officials who have to sign off on the plans. Because the turbine would be built 10 feet from the Isle of Wight Bay – a state-owned waterway – the Maryland Department of the Environment must grant permission.
However, the state won’t allow easements of wind turbines unless the applicant is a public utility. While the details are still being worked out, any such easement may instead come in the form of a “no-license permit,” said Joseph Moore, Motsko’s attorney.
Moore said he believes Motsko’s application meets all the requirements for a conditional use of a wind turbine, and that stringent specifications would have to be proven to deny any such permit. He said there wasn’t enough evidence presented by opponents to deny the permit.
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