Given concerns over future wind turbine construction, Council President Christopher Semonelli has announced a workshop is being planned for town officials and residents to address the issue of “scenic vistas” in the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
After voting Monday to approve zoning law changes governing wind turbine construction in Middletown, the next likely step for the town is to take a closer look at the town’s Comprehensive Master Plan, the legal planning blueprint for future town development and construction in Middletown, to further clarify appropriate building sites for the alternative energy generators.
Town Council President Christopher Semonelli announced Monday that a workshop is being planned for town officials and residents to address the issue of “scenic vistas” and possibly come up with some guidelines or where construction of wind turbines would be appropriately sited in town. Semonelli made the announcement Monday night upon opening the last segment of the public hearing before voting on the Planning Board’s recommendation to change to town’s zoning laws to restrict wind turbine construction from areas in town that are natural, scenic or historic so that, according to town officials, zoning regulations would match the town’s comprehensive plan.
Among the criticisms that opponents had posed in public debate over the last two months to the amendments was the concern that few places in Middletown are without natural, historic or scenic qualities and that leaving the restrictions as too vague or subjective might leave the town vulnerable to litigation for the courts to interpret such meaning. Supporters for the construction of a municipal-owned turbine as a revenue generator for the town have also worried the amendments might preclude the town from ever building its own, by making the regulations too “restrictive” without further defining where all the town’s scenic vistas exactly are.
“Again, tonight we are only amending the ordinance to match the master plan, but there will be a workshop to address the scenic vistas issues,” Semonelli told the filled council chambers Monday night.
However, such discussions may be underway even sooner. If the town’s Comprehensive Plan Update Committee of nearly 20 members is able to reach its minimum turnout for a quorum at its next meeting on Thursday, member and Town Council candidate Bruce Long plans to propose changes regarding future construction of wind turbines.
For one thing, since the phrase “dominate the view” has come up repeatedly during the wind turbine debate, Long is seeking that the town further define “dominate” with respect to wind turbines as to “create a significant intrusion into a scenic vista, natural or historic resource of the town,” as already defined elsewhere in the master plan, from “one or more prominent public vantage points.”
Long is also pressing the town to establish special zoning areas for wind turbines and for the town to distinguish between private and commercial uses. He asserts that wind turbines designed to produce excess power beyond the needs of the property owner (including to recoup the initial investment) should be deemed as “commercial” and restricted to specially zoned areas in town determined as suitable for wind turbines.
At Monday’s council meeting, Long supported the proposed amendments but also asserted that designating appropriate zoning areas for wind turbines would enable the town to identify its own suitable properties as candidates for a municipal-owned turbine, rather than be restricted by vague definitions of natural, scenic or historic.
As in previous meetings on the issue of wind turbines, numerous residents turned out to speak in support and opposition of the zoning ordinance amendments to restrict future construction from areas in town where it would impact “scenic,” “natural” or “historic” views.
Wth Councillor Barbara A. VonVillas dissenting, the council’s 6-1 vote followed a more than hour-long discussion during the Second Reading of the ordinance amendments that brought forward public testimony from both supporters and opponents of the proposed changes and packed the Town Council chambers. The Planning Board had recommended the changes to the town’s less than one-year-old wind turbine ordinance that was adopted in February of 2010.
The common view among supporters had been that the changes were needed to ensure consistency between the town’s Comprehensive Plan and the town’s zoning law that governs wind turbine construction and, prior to voting Monday, some council members echoed that argument.
“You have to have everything matching,” said Councillor Richard Cambra, who previously served on the town’s Zoning Board of Review. He warned that inconsistencies between the two could make the town legally vulnerable and said he didn’t want a court to decide future wind turbine construction for the town.
In opposing the proposed amendments, VonVillas made clear she doesn’t want a wind turbine “near the beach,” a reference to a project proposal currently undergoing review before the Planning and Zoning boards for a 294-foot turbine on the Strauss family sheep farm on Paradise Road near St. George’s School. But VonVillas also emphasized the town’s need for a municipal-owned wind turbine as a revenue generator.
She viewed the amendments as “more restrictive” than the town’s Comprehensive Plan and worried the proposed amendments might set off new efforts to change the Comprehensive Plan to match the new zoning amendments, and ultimately prevent the town from pursuing a municipal-owned wind turbine within a reasonable amount of time.
“The fact is they’re not going to match,” argued VonVillas and later questioned, “Where does it end?”
The issue has divided residents on the issue of wind turbines as well as two town committees on how to proceed regarding the future construction of the alternative energy producers in Middletown.
The Planning Board and Town Solicitor Michael W. Miller have stated that the amendments would ensure consistency between legal language in the town’s Comprehensive Plan and the current Zoning Ordinance, while the Wind Turbine Committee has argued the new language could effectively preclude the town from ever finding a suitable building site for a municipal-owned turbine. The Wind Turbine Committee is tasked with looking into the feasibility of a municipal-owned wind turbine as an alternative green energy revenue generator for the town and proposing potential sites.
Residents pushing for the amendments to be approved have voiced support on the grounds of visual impact, flicker, noise, fear of declining property values, and appropriate use of turbines on residential lands, while some opponents have voiced concern out of support in general for alternative energy and others have echoed the concerns of the Wind Turbine Committee.
Peter Taarguard maintained that the town should not adopt the changes for the “town to retain the option to construct its own wind turbine” and that it “will only result in mischief and possible difficulties for the town.”
Donna Olszewski, a Portsmouth resident who lives 750 feet away from the wind turbine near Portsmouth High School, urged the council to carefully regulate the construction of future wind turbines, because she regrets not having enough information to fight the wind turbine construction in her neighborhood. Light ‘flicker,’ a “whoosh-whoosh” noise, low frequency generator hum, and fear of loss in property values are her chief complaints.
“I had no idea what ‘flicker’ was until I walked into my house,” she told Patch Monday night, referring to the effect of when the sun sets behind a wind turbine and creates a moving shadow. When she addressed the council, she said, “For six weeks every spring, I have to shut my curtains and draw the blinds or it’s unbearable. For something that’s supposed to provide clean alternative energy, I end up…running up my electric bills by having to turn on the lights when I normally wouldn’t have to.”
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