Should neighbors be upset about a 66-foot wind turbine going up on a two-acre lot? Or should they be thankful it isn’t a 135-foot wind turbine on a one-acre lot?
The taller wind towers on smaller lots were originally considered by Elko County last fall as commissioners prepared to pass an ordinance setting restrictions on the alternative energy machines. The action followed passage of a state law that prevents local governments from passing “unreasonable” restrictions on windmills.
Few residents came out of the woodwork to comment on the county ordinance when it was under consideration – probably because at that point it was only a vague abstraction and not a matter of something being built above anyone’s fence line. The Spring Creek Association got involved because the state law put into question its Declaration of Reservations limiting any accessory structures to 30 feet.
By the time the county ordinance was passed this spring the 135-foot tower restriction had shrunk to a maximum 66 feet.
The issue for residents of Spring Creek, as well as outlying areas around the city of Elko, is largely about obstructing views and creating noise. SCA board member Bob Collyer wrote last fall that, “A 135-foot turbine could easily interfere with views, aesthetic values and cause some noise disturbance. The idea of each lot over one acre possibly having a wind turbine this size is certainly cause for concern.”
Local Realtors also weighed in on the ordinance, with Paul Bottari stating that “135-foot wind turbines could affect the quiet enjoyment of your property,” and that residents should have a say about what goes up in a neighbor’s backyard.
More than a dozen neighbors protested the application on Sundance Drive, an area not far from an even more bitter dispute over development of an apartment complex. In both cases there was much acrimony over government “ignoring” their wishes.
Part of the problem may stem from confusion over the concept of a “conditional use permit.” Property owners are not free to do whatever they want with their property. Some uses are flat-out prohibited, while others are clearly allowed. In between are uses that are allowed only after an official review of standards, such as those that were set by the county’s wind machine ordinance.
When a developer or a family applies for a conditional use permit they are entitled to have it approved if it meets the standards set by the governing board. The county’s wind machine ordinance, for example, is excruciatingly specific about what kind of device is allowed.
If the ordinance is indeed less restrictive than intended, as Commissioner Charlie Myers suggests and as Sundance neighbors suspect, then the code could be changed at a future date to apply to any future permit applications.
In the meantime, property owners should keep in mind that any use allowed under a conditional use permit could end up becoming a reality right next door. The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises is to be involved in civic affairs and to stay abreast of any changes proposed by government at any level.
Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are John Pfeifer, Jeffry Mullins and Marianne Kobak McKown.
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