A first effort to place smaller-sized wind turbines in the city under a brand-new city ordinance has been shot down.
Neighbors near the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City Electrical Training Center, 2300 Johnson Ave. NW, succeeded this week in convincing the city’s Board of Adjustment not to grant the 700-plus-electrician-strong IBEW Local 405 a “conditional-use” permit required to erect wind turbines in the city.
The board’s vote was 2-2, sufficient to defeat the training center’s request.
David Lodge, the board’s chairman and senior vice president at Guaranty Bank and Trust Co., on Wednesday said he voted against the wind-turbine plan because it was incompatible and out of character with what is largely a residential neighborhood around it. A dozen or more neighbors were on hand at the board’s meeting to object.
“This had mainly to do with a 60-foot tower in a residential area,” Lodge said.
Mike Dryden, the board’s vice chairman and a project manager at Ament Inc. Cedar Rapids, said Wednesday that he voted for the plan because the city’s new ordinance seemed to envision a coming era when wind turbines would become more common, even in residential areas.
Dryden said the training center’s plan ran up against the fact that the city’s wind-turbine ordinance is brand new and that no other turbines have gone up in Cedar Rapids to prove they can be compatible in a residential neighborhood.
Mike Carson, training director at the IBEW training center, on Wednesday said he understood the neighbors’ “apprehension” about the three wind turbines the center had planned to erect on its site, what had once been a neighborhood grocery store and then a post office substation before become an electricians’ training center in 2004. At the same time, Carson felt the neighbors based their fears on a “misperception” that the training center wanted to install large wind turbines like ones in rural Iowa.
“All they see are those big monsters out in the cornfields,” Carson said.
The rural wind turbines are 400-feet tall, while the training center’s plan was to install a 61-foot-tall turbine and two, 37-foot-tall ones next to its building. The center, Carson said, wanted to expose the community to the coming technology while giving its apprentices and journeymen the ability to work on innovative, cutting-edge technology. The training center, which secured a $39,000 grant from the state Office of Energy Independence for the wind turbines, already features a solar panel on a pole in its driveway along Johnson Avenue NW.
Tom Zenisek, who lives across the street from the training center at 257 24th St. NW, led the neighborhood objection to the training center’s wind-turbine plan, and on Wednesday, he called a 60-foot tower at the front of the center’s building “a big problem.”
Neighbors, he said, believed the large tower and two smaller ones were unsightly and would make too much noise, and, as a result, hurt property values. Zenisek said the solar panel on the post on the training center property is already unpleasant to look at.
“None of us is against wind turbines per say, we’re just not in favor of them being in a residential neighborhood,” he said.
Zenisek, 63, past president of the local homebuilders association and a member of the committee that oversaw the planning for a new police station some years ago, noted that the City Planning Commission in recent years voted against a plan to turn a residential lot across from him into a commercial space. The commission, he said, decided then not to allow further commercial development in what remains a residential area. The wind-turbine towers would go against that direction, he added.
“We don’t want Johnson Avenue to become another Mount Vernon Road,” Zenisek said.
Garland Groom, 69, of 313 24th St. NW, lives right next door to the electrical training center, and he, too, on Wednesday said the training center’s turbine idea was a bad one.
Groom, who owns Quality Home Inspections and does, among other things, energy audits for homes, said he’s as big a fan of wind turbines as anyone, but he doesn’t favor them in the wrong place.
Both he and Zenisek suggested that IBEW put the turbines up at its union hall on Wiley Boulevard SW, which is not in a residential area.
City Council member Chuck Swore, a former electrician and retired as general manager from Acme Electric, said on Wednesday that the Board of Adjustment’s decision set back “green” technology in the community for some years.
Swore said he thought the council had enacted a sensible, wind-turbine ordinance because it realized that small wind turbines for use inside the city were on the way.
“Sooner or later, people aren’t going to be able to just use the argument, not in my backyard,” he said.
The training center’s Carson said he’s not sure what his next step will be. One thought, he said, is to propose putting up two turbines instead of three and see if he can win approval for that.
The smaller wind turbines at the training center would create a noise level six decibels above the typical ambient noise, need winds of over 100 mph to blow over and would be rigged to provide power to the center and to feed excess power into the Alliant Energy grid, Carson said.
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