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Winery owners plan to sue over denial of windmill

CAMBRIA – The owners of Arrowhead Spring Vineyards are planning to sue the Town of Cambria over last week’s rejection of their request to install a wind power turbine on their property.

After a crowded public meeting showed solid opposition last Monday, the town Planning Board voted unanimously against the winery’s proposal.

Owners Duncan and Robin Ross said they shouldn’t have even had to go before the board in the first place, since they say state law is written to encourage windmills on agricultural properties.

But Planning Board Chairman William Amacher and attorney Gary Billingsley said the applicants misled the board by saying that the windmill would have powered only the wine-making operation.

Once the board found out the windmill also was going to power the Ross’ home on the site, the project no longer qualified for a simple site plan review under the town’s ordinance, Billingsley said.

That shouldn’t be a big deal, Robin Ross said. “Like 90 percent of farms in New York State, we have one electric meter,” she said.

“It does make a difference,” Billingsley said. “Under normal circumstances, [Arrowhead] would have needed a special use permit, which requires a public hearing. [Duncan Ross] said it was only for agricultural purposes, which requires only site plan review.”

To obtain a special use permit, a noise study also would be required, Billingsley said.

Anonymous fliers distributed around the town helped drum up a hostile crowd. “That’s the largest crowd I ever had. It was a full house, standing room only,” Amacher said.

He allowed them to speak, although Billingsley said he wasn’t required to do so because it wasn’t a formal public hearing.

“I was surprised at the resistance of the neighborhood,” Amacher said.

Duncan Ross said most of the objections weren’t really relevant to his project. He was proposing a single 10- kilowatt windmill, which Billingsley said was to have been 132 feet tall to the tip of the blades.

Amacher said, “The county Planning Board recommended denial because it was more than 100 feet. They were also concerned about noise.”

Ross said most of the noise objections drew on data from large wind farms, such as the one at the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna.

The town’s wind power law, adopted in September 2009, says that any windmill over 100 feet high is considered commercial and requires a special use permit.

The site was to be near the northern boundary of Ross’ property. Its northern neighbor is another winery, Freedom Run, whose owners, Maureen and Larry Manning, did not return a call for comment last week.

Robin Ross said the Mannings were against the windmill, although she believed another neighbor was responsible for the fliers.

Arrowhead Spring had applied for grants from the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to partially reimburse part of the construction costs.