The Board of Adjustment confirmed that the Walmart wind turbine application will pass but held off their vote until the January meeting so a list of conditions can be compiled.
Walmart is launching a pilot cost-saving program with OmniWind at four stores across the country. The company would install windmills in the store’s parking lots to supply power to the buildings.
OmniWind is seeking to replace 10 existing light poles with stronger poles, reinstall the light fixtures at the current height, and install small turbines.
The applicant needs to get variance approval from the zoning board to extend the lighting poles to 51 feet, as code currently allows poles to rise to only 35 feet.
Each pole would have multi-bladed fans resting on a rotatable device that allows them to turn to face the wind. The turbine would be 8 feet in diameter with 4-foot blades.
Over the course of five months, residents have noted health and safety concerns as well as aesthetics and sound as potential issues with the innovative wind turbines.
Board members Colleen Bradley and Joseph Appello visited four OmniWind sites- residential, commercial, municipal and a wind tunnel for testing- in Pennsylvania where the wind turbines are in operation.
Bradley said at one point they were in the parking lot of a shopping center and the turbine was supposed to be located behind the building.
“I couldn’t find it,” she said. “I couldn’t see it.”
When Bradley visited the municipal building, she stopped in several department buildings to get their point of view.
“Nobody ever picked up any dead birds or animals, never any debris coming off of it, nobody ever said anything about sound,” she said.
Appello was impressed and called the technology “unbelievable.”
“You literally can’t hear it,” he said. “There is no comparison of them being an eyesore compared to communication towers.”
When Bradley and Appello were at the municipal building, the generator for the public works building and traffic created more noise than the wind turbine, he said.
“Everything Mr. Douglas [president and co-founder of OmniWind] presented was true,” Appello said. “I’m just very happy we had the opportunity to go out there and see these things in operation first hand. It’s nothing that you think you would know or that you’ve seen because it’s really a one of a kind operation.”
The application argues that according to the Sica balancing tests, which analyzes the potential public benefits and possible detrimental effects, a wind generating facility is inherently a beneficial use. If the zoning board disagrees, OmniWind would have to make a case for the positive benefits of such turbines.
But wind systems are not a permitted use in Lacey, which is why the applicant is appearing in front of the board to seek a use variance, Zoning Officer Loretta Rule previously said.
A law passed by the State Senate and General Assembly in November 2009 changed the definition of “inherently beneficial use” to include wind structures. Under a second law, municipalities are kept from “unreasonably” limiting small wind energy system installations.
The only potential detriment is the visual impact of installing windmills, attorney Warren Stiwell said.
“I think we’re going too far into this,” board member Craig Tomalo said. “I think if it was bad for Walmart, they’re not going to have it. If it’s bad for the people coming there, they’re not going to have it.”
The board showed that the application would have enough votes to pass but held off on voting until township professionals could develop a list of conditions for OmniWind to adhere to.
One condition the board is considering is how often OmniWind should be required to test the wind turbines, Chairman Tim McDonald said. In past testimony, Douglas said they would be tested annually but the zoning board would like to see them inspected quarterly to start.
“It was a foregone conclusion,” said Jacqueline Court resident Judy DiFiglio, who has been advocating against the Walmart wind turbines since the application came to the zoning board in August. “I think its business as usual.”
Both DiFiglio and June Rossolillo, another Jacqueline Court resident, expressed concerns over being “guinea pigs.”
“I’m very much for going green but I don’t feel it belongs in the middle of a town like this,” Rossolillo said. “And once they set a precedence, they can do it anywhere.”
A resolution including conditions for OmniWind will be presented at the next Board of Adjustment meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 3.
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