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Middletown Town Council approves zoning law changes

The Town Council on Monday night approved additional language to Middletown’s zoning law governing wind turbines, further restricting future construction from areas in town where it would impact “scenic,” “natural” or “historic” views.

Wth Councillor Barbara A. VonVillas dissenting, the 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, 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.