NEWRY – The Planning Board is proposing ordinance amendments that would effectively ban the construction of commercial wind power projects in the town.
A public hearing on the proposal will be scheduled in October.
Planners have hammered out changes to the Unified Development Review Ordinance, which governs land use and development, to incorporate wind projects.
Their proposal draws on the work of an ad hoc Regional Wind Power Committee, comprised of representatives from five area towns. That group worked for more than a year to create a document to guide area planning boards in crafting their own wind ordinances.
The committee addressed such issues as noise, blade flicker, safety setbacks and possible road damage from the transport of heavy tower parts. Those topics are included in the Newry plan.
The Newry Planning Board proposal would limit commercial wind projects to the town’s Resort Development District (Sunday River Ski Resort), which, when combined with other regulations and easements, would mean the only location eligible for such a project would be the top of the Skiway’s Barker Mountain.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Jim Largess was a member of the regional committee, and he voiced some concerns about the town plan at Monday’s selectmen’s meeting.
“Basically, we’ve banned wind,” Largess said. “We’re restricting it so much, we’ve said ‘no.’ We don’t know what the technology will look like in 10 years, and we could lose potential tax dollars.”
But, he added, he felt the most important priority was to have an ordinance in place, regardless of his concerns.
Selectman Gary Wight wasn’t as sure. “Why have it if it’s not what you want?” he asked.
Brooks Morton, chairman of the Planning Board, also attended Monday’s selectmen’s meeting. He and the selectmen agreed the public hearing would be a good forum to discuss all sides of the issue.
The other growth management districts in Newry include: general development, including commercial; rural, with large blocks of forest and land; and protection, to protect significant natural resources.
Morton said after the meeting that the general development district generally is not a good location for wind projects. “The (district) follows the valley floors along the Sunday River Road and Route 26,” he said. “Other areas in town with favorable sites are located on land already in conservation easements, public lands or hiking trails.”
Morton added that industrial wind energy “is so new it’s difficult to find any hard facts to regulate.” The Planning Board, he said, decided that noise was the most measurable regulating factor, and therefore most of the changes of substance were made to the noise section of the Unified Development Review Ordinance.
He also said he does not personally agree with all the specifics of the proposal.
Also on Monday, selectmen briefly discussed their options for addressing recent complaints about noise, parking and fireworks in neighborhoods surrounding large vacation rental homes.
Town Administrator Loretta Powers said people have called to complain about disturbances caused by large parties at the homes, some of which can accommodate dozens of people overnight.
“All we’ve been able to do is tell them to call the police,” she said.
Powers recently contacted John Maloney of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments for advice.
Maloney replied in an email that the town can soon address the fireworks issue with its own ordinance. Though currently illegal, consumer fireworks will become legal Jan. 1. The new law, however, allows towns to regulate them locally.
The Newry board had recently declined to consider such an ordinance.
As for parking, Maloney noted the Unified Development Review Ordinance asks for two spaces per dwelling unit. But from Powers’ description, he said, it appeared the rentals were not “dwelling units,” and therefore should be considered as commercial and subject to site plan review requirements.
Powers wondered if Newry made changes to the ordinance to address the rental properties, whether or not the current ones would be grandfathered.
No specific next steps were identified for the near future.
In other business, Code Enforcement Officer Dave Bonney reported that work has been completed on the reconstruction of the Paine Bridge on the Branch Road. The work cost approximately $98,000. It was the third in a trio of Branch Road bridges that have been reconstructed in recent years.
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