Town resident Luise Strauss has withdrawn her application for a Special Use Permit to construct a 294-foot wind turbine on her sheep farm at 485 Paradise Avenue.
The notice to withdraw the application was submitted by letter from Strauss’ Providence-based attorney Richard A. Sherman to Middletown’s Zoning Department Wednesday with no explanation as to why it was being withdrawn or any indication as to whether Strauss might re-submit the application at a later date or in a modified form. Reached by phone Wednesday, Sherman declined comment on the matter.
The Zoning Board of Review was scheduled to take up the matter at its next meeting Oct. 26, 2010 and a special meeting on the application had been scheduled for November, so a vote is now expected to be taken for the board to officially approve the request for the application withdrawal. Typically, an applicant may request a plan withdrawal without prejudice but no such language was included in the letter from Strauss’ attorney. Still, the Zoning Board has the right to do so at its own discretion.
If Strauss ever decides to submit a new application, it would be subject to the revised zoning ordinance amendments passed as of Monday night, said Ronald Wolanski, Middletown’s Director of Planning and Economic Development.
On Monday, the Town Council voted 6-1 to approve changes to the town’s zoning ordinance to reportedly match the town’s Comprehensive Plan and include language restricting future construction of wind turbines from dominant views in sites that are natural, scenic or historic.
Strauss had proposed to build a 294-foot wind turbine atop a 14-acre area located on the northwest corner of her family’s sheep farm at 485 Paradise Avenue, a hillside about 119 feet above sea level that would have continued to be used as a small farm for Suffolk/Dorper/Dorset sheep.
The project had also called for a graded but unpaved access road, small 4-foot-by-4-foot-by-3-foot utility building to house the turbine’s power transformer, a security fence around both, and electrical connections below ground. To comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, a red light would have blinked at the top.
Wolanski said the receipt of the letter Wednesday was the first and only indication the town had received that the Strauss application would be withdrawn.
Asked if the notice came as a surpise, Wolanski said, “I guess I’m not surprised at the level of opposition that has been expressed at recent meetings.”
Even though the most recent public hearings over the last month were over the proposed zoning law changes governing wind turbines–and town officials repeatedly discouraged speakers from discussing the Strauss project at those unrelated hearings–numerous residents who turned out to support the amendments still cited the Strauss proposal as an “example” as to why tighter restrictions were needed.
Most opponents were concerned about the structure “dominating the view” at heavy tourism areas on Sachuest Point to the immediate southeast and the Easton’s Beach area to the west. Neighbors closer to the proposed site expressed concerns for light and shadow flicker, noise, and generator low-frequency hums, bird migratory paths, and hits to their property values.
Still, the Strauss project was not without supporters. During a Planning Board site visit tour of the property in late August, several residents who attended said they enthusiastically supported more “cleaner” alternative energy alternatives in Middletown as well as using farmland in others ways besides subdividing open space for more residential or commercial development in town.
Other who spoke in favor of wind turbine energy more generally at recent zoning amendment hearings had also argued that some see wind turbines as a symbol of beauty and elegance representing clean alternative energy, and that Middletown should hold them up as a symbol of town pride.
Both the recently adopted zoning amendments and the Strauss project have also touched off debate on the issue of further defining and pinpointing “scenic vistas” more exactly throughout Middletown, to find appropriately sited locations or zoning ares as either potential sites for a future municipal-owned turbine or for private property owners to pursue.
Many speakers at recent hearings said they support wind turbines as alternative energy producers or the town pursuing a municipal-owned turbine, so long as the structures would not negatively impact scenic views and areas that rely heavily on tourism.
Town officials are currently planning an upcoming workshop for residents and town officials to determine appropriate sites for wind turbine construction in Middletown.
Three other wind turbines are currently operational in Middletown: two 55-foot structures on private farms on Mitchell’s Lane and another 55-footer at the Aquidneck Corporate Park off Valley Road.
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