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Neighbors lose appeal of wind turbine tower

ELKO – Sundance Drive will soon be home to a 66-foot tall wind turbine tower, despite protests from 14 neighboring households.

After a nearly three-hour appeal hearing Monday, Elko County Commissioners unanimously agreed with a decision by the Elko County Planning Commission to allow the tower.

The vote could set a precedent for other local residents wanting to put a wind turbine on their property.

“What we’re talking about is the future of wind turbines in agricultural residential districts,” Commission Chairman Demar Dahl said.

Scott and Sheri Baker applied for a conditional use permit to put a wind turbine tower on their two-acre property on Sundance. It was approved by planning commissioners June 17.

However, 14 neighboring households signed a petition to appeal the planning commission’s decision.

The 66-foot wind tower is the maximum height allowed under the county’s new wind machine ordinance, which was approved this spring.

Under requirements of the ordinance, notices about the project went out to the 30 closest property owners to the Bakers.

Thirteen of those households signed the appeal, as well as one other household in the area.

Commissioner Jeff Williams said he sympathizes with property owners in the area, but he didn’t see anything the commission could do legally to stop the project.

Commissioner Charlie Myers said he was in favor of the wind ordinance when he voted on it this spring, but didn’t anticipate that a 66-foot tower could be placed on a two-acre lot.

However, “historically, this commission has been a strong supporter of private property rights,” he said. “I don’t want to tell people what to do with their property.”

It’s the first appeal the county has heard involving the new wind ordinance.

Kristin McQueary, Elko County chief civil deputy district attorney, said commissioners had four options during the appeal hearing: sustain the planning commission’s decision, overturn it, modify it or send the proceeding back to the planning commission.

Attorney Katie McConnell, who represented the 14 property owners appealing the planning commission’s decision, said she found many errors in the Baker’s application for the project.

“The appellants have the right to make sure the application is done right,” she said. “This project puts a very tall wind machine in the center of a bunch of houses.”

McConnell raised concerns about the application, such as the lack of an engineer’s stamp on the project map, the fact that a public utility easement near the property wasn’t noted, and what she called several misstatements.

“There were legal issues that were missed,” she said.

Applicant Sheri Baker said a contractor filled out the application and errors happen. For instance, her name was spelled wrong on the appeal form for the hearing, she said.

During the appeal hearing, McConnell also said she disagrees with the claim made in the application that the wind turbine tower won’t block views in the primary residential area, which is adjacent to the city limits.

Paul Barnhart, a local real estate appraiser, said tall towers don’t seem to have much of an effect on property values.

“Noise, on the other hand, has a huge effect,” he said.

Wind turbines generally produce 50-60 decibels of noise, which is about the equivalent of a normal human conversation.

Barnhart said the homes in the area of Sundance Drive are some of the most valuable in the Elko area.

During the hearing, McConnell also said that according to the county’s wind ordinance, there’s supposed to be setbacks around the wind turbine equivalent to one-and-a-half times the height of the turbine.

McConnell said the required space around the turbine comes right up against several property lines. The proposed turbine, she said, is too large for the Bakers’ parcel.

She also raised concerns about the safety and welfare of residents in the area, such as shadow flickers created when light reflects off the turbine and the potential hazard if the turbine fell apart.

“This is not a black-and-white situation,” Williams said about the appeal hearing. “There are some issues to deal with.”

Applicant Scott Baker said the application fits in with county requirements.

“These wind turbines fit in all kinds of locations,” he said, adding that he wanted a taller turbine on his property, but the county’s wind ordinance doesn’t allow for it. “I can’t see it being a safety issue.”

Another point of debate during the hearing was whether the wind turbine would block neighbors’ views.

Sheri Baker said she understands neighbors’ concerns about the views, however, “there’s nothing to say our neighbor won’t have a (wind turbine) some day.”

“We do know that change is hard, but the world is changing,” she said.