The Roanoke County Board of Supervisors is ready to move forward on a zoning ordinance that would place tighter restrictions on large wind turbines.
The five supervisors agreed during a work session Tuesday to place amendments to the county zoning ordinance on the agenda for its next meeting, on July 26. A public hearing on the amendments is scheduled for Aug. 23.
In between the two meetings, supervisors hope to hammer out most of the details on how to regulate the construction of large-scale wind turbines that might be built in the county.
No company has formally applied to build such turbines – which can be well more than 400 feet in height, visible for miles and most likely targeted for ridgelines. But Chicago-based Invenergy has announced plans for 18 on Poor Mountain and received Federal Aviation Administration approval for all but three.
All of the turbines would stand 443 feet tall, but the FAA has determined that the three planned for the highest part of the site would pose a potential hazard to airplanes approaching Roanoke Regional Airport.
In May, Invenergy asked the FAA to accommodate the three turbines by raising the minimum vectoring altitude for passing aircraft by 200 feet. The agency is reviewing that request.
Should the FAA rule against Invenergy, the company could either relocate the three towers or eliminate them from its planned wind farm.
The company has indicated in the past that it will wait for the county to revise its zoning ordinance to address wind energy before submitting a formal application.
The proposed zoning ordinance amendments would provide guidelines for county officials on such questions as noise limits, setbacks from adjoining property and occupied dwellings, and siting.
Vinton District Supervisor Mike Altizer said it was important to take the time to get the ordinance right because it would not apply just to Poor Mountain but to the entire county.
“The board has to do what it feels best protects Roanoke County, and in doing so best protects the citizens,” Altizer said. “I don’t think anyone – whether you live on the top of Bent Mountain or on the top of Catawba or Fort Lewis or Windy Gap – would be happy with that set of criteria” that exists in the current zoning ordinance.
Hollins District Supervisor Richard Flora said it’s important to move forward to put the amendments in place sooner rather than later. The board can always rewrite the ordinance if it discovers “loopholes” or “land mines” later, he said.
But Windsor Hills District Supervisor Ed Elswick, who represents the only community in the county where a company has expressed a specific interest in a utility-scale wind farm, noted that by the time supervisors discover problems with the amendments, it may be too late.
“In this case, you can’t take the windmills down, if they were to go up,” Elswick said. “We ought to make the ordinance as accurate as we possibly can. … To me, it’s one of the most serious issues we’ll ever have to debate.”
In other business, Roanoke County Administrator Clay Goodman briefed the board on plans to lease the former Bent Mountain Elementary School building from the school board and in turn lease it to a neighborhood group for use as a community center.
Goodman said that lease negotiations have yet to begin, but said he felt it was important to establish a mutual feeling of “cooperation and collaboration” in the early stages of the plan.
The board voted to lease space in the new South County Library to Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea for the operation of a coffee shop that will include a drive-through window.
Staff writer Laurence Hammack contributed to this report.
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