WESTPORT – It looks like Westport’s wind energy bylaws will stay up in the air for the foreseeable future as the Energy Committee is set to reach out to several town departments for input.
The town’s height bylaw currently prohibits structures taller than 190 feet. This makes bringing commercial wind turbines problematic, as they can be as tall as 400 feet. Selectman and Energy Committee member Antoine Viera said the committee was focused primarily on large-scale industrial turbines and was looking to propose a bylaw that would allow heights of 380 to 410 feet.
Meeting last week, the committee and the Planning Board discussed a variety of possibilities for wind power in Westport but the Planning Board decided it had just started learning about wind power and the time was not right for any decisions to be made.
“I think we’re just getting into this process,” said board Chairman John Montano.
Further complicating the committee’s task is a bill in the state House of Representatives. Bill No. 1757 proposes that no commercial turbine should be within 3,000 feet of a residence or residential zone.
“That would essentially eliminate any chance of having such a turbine in Westport,” Montano said.
Energy Committee member Walter Barnes explained that the setback in the proposed state law was so large because several studies in various communities have shown that property values see a precipitous decline when a turbine is built nearby.
“In Brewster, most homes within 2 miles of industrial wind power see a decline of 25 percent,” Barnes said, adding that properties in Wareham saw an 11 percent decline in value.
With so many variables to consider from sound to height to potential health hazards from the infrasound, or inaudible sound, caused by the turbines, the Planning Board suggested the committee gather input from the Board of Health and possibly other town agencies. Barnes also suggested the possibility of a subcommittee.
Planning Board member Elaine Ostroff said she would like to see more dialogue before jumping into new bylaws.
“I think our board is unanimous about wind power,” said Montano, but he added the board was not ready to vote on anything yet.
The Energy Committee plans to reach out to other town boards and departments in order to gather more information.
In other business:
The Planning Board held the fourth installment of its public hearing on the proposed Science and Technology Overlay District zoning bylaw without closing the hearing. The STOD bylaw is intended to allow better land use adjacent to the Routes 6 and 88 interchange. The board has wrestled with questions of building height, parking and buffer space between roads and commercial property since the public hearing process began.
The board has also grappled with whether they should rezone the area rather than having an overlay district. Montano said that rezoning the area would require the board to hold all new hearings and would defeat the purpose of the progress the board has made so far, adding that rezoning was possible in the future after the overlay district was settled.
The town is facing a strict time limit to settle the bylaw because it would require a special town meeting in March, within 180 days of when the first public hearing notice was published. Selectmen, however, must hold their own hearing once the Planning Board hearing is closed and the Finance Committee must also look at the proposal as well.
If everything is not settled by then, the Planning Board will have to re-advertise the public hearing for about $500 and hold the public hearing again.
The fifth installment of the public hearing will be held Jan. 24 at 6 p.m.; the location is still pending but will likely be in the Town Hall, not the Town Hall Annex where the Planning Board usually meets due to another meeting using the annex’s room.
Residents are encouraged to go to the town’s website at westport-ma.com, where the STOD bylaw has been posted.
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