Falmouth Planning Board took a threefold approach to restricting the development of future wind turbines in Falmouth on Tuesday night, including a proposal to institute a one-year moratorium on new turbine permits, recommending that turbines be declared a development of critical planning concern for all of the Upper Cape, and continuing work on a new, more restrictive zoning bylaw for future turbines in town.
Board members unanimously supported the development of an article for the Spring Annual Town Meeting in April that would place a one-year moratorium on new wind turbine permits. The article would not affect any existing wind turbine in town or any turbine that has received a permit, but would stop any future turbines from receiving a permit. The moratorium would actually go into effect months before Town meeting takes a vote on the matter, according to Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy Jr. The town would not issue any new permits for wind turbines after a notice of the moratorium is advertised in local newspapers, which will likely be in January.
Both the town-owned wind turbines at the Wastewater Treatment Plant off Blacksmith Shop Road have already received building permits and would not be affected by the moratorium.
“This gives us some breathing room,” said planning board Chairman Patricia H. Kerfoot, explaining that the moratorium would allow time for the town to find-tune a new more restrictive zoning bylaw for the town. The existing bylaw is outdated and does not addres many issues, including health concerns or a light flicker effect from turbines.
Board members discussed the moratorium only briefly before unanimously approving it.
Before approving the moratorium, board members first directed Town Planner Brian A. Currie to write a letter to the county strongly recommending wind turbines be declared a district of critical planning concern, of DCPC, throughout the Upper Cape, and perhaps throughout all of Cape Cod.
“Myself and some of the other town managers and town planners in the neighboring towns have been having some conversations in regard to wind turbines, and several of us have reached the conclusion that we should take a more holistic approach to permitting,” Mr. Currie said.
Martha’s Vineyard currently has a moratorium on wind turbines using a similar process, Mr. Currie said.
“I would strongly recommend declaring wind turbine a DCPC for all of Cape Cod,” Ms. Kerfoot said, adding that a turbine sited near a town line would affect residents in other towns.
Board member Kenneth W. Medeiros II said, “Maybe we should go for an Upper Cape DCPC.”
The board voted to strongly recommend a wind turbine DCPC for the Upper Cape, and including all of Cape Cod if necessary.
Tuesday night’s decisions marked a sharp turnaround from the board’s official position regarding wind turbines in town. Just three months ago, on August 31, the Falmouth Planning Board and the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals held a joint meeting to discuss wind turbine permitting. During that meeting the ideas both of a DCPC and of a townwide moratorium were raised, but neither received any vocal support form the board members at that time.
“I think this discussion is long overdue,” said board member Robert B. Volosevich Jr. on Tuesday, before making the motion to recommend wind turbine be declared a DCPC throughout the towns of Falmouth, Mashpee, Bourne, and Sandwich by the Cape Cod Commission.
Board member Richard K. Latimer suggested an amendment to that motion, limiting the declaration to only land-based wind turbines, so projects like the offshore wind farm Cape Wind would not be affected. He said health effects from land-based wind turbines are a concern and should be addressed, but did not want the politics involved in the Cape Wind project to become entangled in the process. The amendment failed.
But board member Robert J. Leary said that some future offshore wind turbines could be close enough to have health effects on people on land.
“There is an agenda with the wind energy people,” Mr. Leary said. He noted that there is a wind turbine going up on the Falmouth High School campus, but no one is talking about installing solar panels on the large roof space.
Toward the end of the meeting, the majority of board members authorized Mr. Currie to write the letter to the County commissioners.
Board member Ralph E. Herbst said that he visited the Notus Clean Energy wind turbine in Falmouth Technology Park Tuesday morning and recommended all members of the planning board and members of the public visit the turbine to experience its effects.
Board members also voted unanimously to go forward with a local zoning bylaw that would replace the outdated existing bylaw with a more comprehensive one.
Ms. Kerfoot said that the moratorium would allow the town to take its time to develop a comprehensive turbine bylaw.
The bylaw presented to board members was a first draft and may change drastically before it is presented to Town Meeting, Ms. Kerfoot said.
Mr. Latimer noted that the language in the draft bylaw is extremely technical, and should perhaps be simplified.
Ms. Kerfoot said she would have a difficult time explaining many of the terms and ideas in the draft.
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