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Mayor tables wind turbine decision to address concerns

After some neighbors and aldermen raised concerns about a rooftop wind turbine proposed on a Blue Mound Road office, the mayor broke a rare tie vote to table the request for more study.

Freshly reappointed to the aldermanic seat she resigned in July to apply for the city clerk’s job, Ald. Lisa Mellone made a motion to table the request by RA Smith National, 16745 W. Blue Mound Rd.

Aldermen voted 7-7 to table the issue, forcing Mayor Steve Ponto to cast the deciding vote. Ponto said it would be prudent to answer concerns raised by the city’s first wind turbine request.

Voting to table were aldermen Ron Balzer, Chris Blackburn, Renee Lowerr, Gerald Mellone, Lisa Mellone, Bob Reddin and Dan Sutton.

City Community Development Director Dan Ertl said state law bars local governments from restricting the installation of energy systems other than for health and safety reasons. Restrictions also can not increase the project cost nor be more restrictive than state regulations.

The city has no ordinance regulating wind or other alternative energy systems.

A Plan Commission memo described RA Smith’s proposed turbine on the three-story building this way:

“The installation is building-mounted on a mast 16’ in length but located such that the 7’ diameter turbine will have but 2’8” of blade clearance from the top of the building parapet, i.e. the turbine isn’t very high in the air, will be obscured from view by the building when viewed from a variety of ground angles, and can’t fall into a neighboring property.”

But Barbara Roncke, representing the neighborhood group Concerned Calhoun Community, said the city should create rules on turbines and other systems before approving any requests.

“You need it to help protect residents,” she said.

Roncke said the proposed maximum 35-decibel noise the turbine would emit would not be unduly noisy, especially located off the noisy Blue Mound Road commercial corridor.

But she said neighbors are worried that the company could in the future seek to add a taller, more powerful turbine.

Others, such as Ald. Gerald Mellone, questioned why RA Smith was erecting the turbine because it was so small it would not generate energy savings for the engineering firm. RA Smith representatives were not at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Gerald Mellone said he wondered if the company was doing it for a tax write-off or for publicity and advertising of sustainable energy work.

If it’s for advertising, Gerald Mellone said, then the city should go back and vote on whether Hooters should get to erect its owl sign or McDonald’s its arches.

He said he went door-to-door speaking to about 20 neighbors, none of whom supported the turbine. He said he personally believed wind energy was ineffective and cited national controversies over federal loans given for energy projects.

“I don’t want any part of this,” Gerald Mellone said. “RA Smith should be a good neighbor and withdraw this proposal.”

Ald. Dan Sutton said if the city really has no rights under state law to restrict energy installations, the request shouldn’t even come to aldermen for approval and should be handled by city staff. He said he didn’t want to act as a rubberstamp.

Ertl said aldermen must approve the turbine as a conditional use to the firm’s zoning. He compared it to the city having to formally approve group homes, even though state law forbids municipalities from restricting them.

Ald. Scott Berg questioned whether the city would be putting itself at risk of litigation should it not approve the plan. City Attorney Karen Flaherty said RA Smith could sue, if it believed the city was illegally blocking the turbine.

Aldermen Gary Mahkorn and Rick Owen said plan commissioners had no problem with the request, believing it did not cause noise or safety problems.

Mahkorn said if the size or appearance had been a “monstrosity of some kind” commissioners might have felt differently. “I guess it’s in the eyes of the beholder,” he added.