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Council approves motion to write wind turbine amendment

In a surprise move during Monday night’s meeting, Town Council members voted 4-1 in favor of writing a Zoning Ordinance amendment that would ban wind turbines in Middletown everywhere but on farms.

Although the agenda for last night’s regular monthly Town Council meeting included a memo (see PDF) signed jointly by Town Council President Art Weber and Vice President Bruce Long proposing a study to help determine guidelines for wind turbine siting, a motion introduced by Councillor Chris Semonelli derailed the study proposal.

Instead, the motion called for “instructing the Town Administrator, Town Planner and Town Solicitor to prepare an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to prohibit wind turbines in all zoning districts, with the following exceptions:

1. Building Mounted, Small and Medium-Tower Turbines may be allowed for the following Agricultural uses, provided the use is the primary use on the lot:
a. Field crop farms or horticultural nurseries, including wholesale sales on the same lot
b. Livestock farms”

The motion was approved 4-1, with Councillor Barbara VonVillas as the sole opponent. Two members of Town Council were absent—Edward Silveira, and Richard Cambra. The proposal for the wind turbine study was never made it to a vote.

Councillor Semonelli explained that the motion was the result of a conversation he had last weekend with Middletown residents on Mitchell’s Lane who are neighbors of the family that has had two pole-mounted small wind turbines in place for several years.

“For years, I have wanted to keep open mind regarding small wind turbines, and I have felt that way until this weekend,” said Semonelli, who described seeing a response to the town’s wind turbine survey from a familly on Mitchell’s Lane, and going to meet with the family; Semonelli was accompanied by Councillors Weber and Long.

“These neighbors mentioned flicker, shadow, and noise distractions, and they live 600 feet away from the turbines. This family is not anti-wind-turbine, by the way, but they felt the turbines were an annoyance,” he continued.

“I feel compelled to protect neighbors in our town, and I don’t want to waste money on a report. We thought we needed the report to drill the data down to our local level, but this family helped me do it,” said Semonelli.

Councillor VonVillas pointed out that the wind survey results (see PDF) showed an overwhelming majority of Middletown respondents said alternative energy was important, and more than half supported wind turbines. VonVillas, who favored continuing with the study, said: “This Council wants to get rid of turbines before getting all the info. Maybe it’s time to do a referendum.”

VonVillas also expressed dismay that the Council was considering the motion given that a statewide study on wind turbine siting is coming in March. “I don’t think it is appropriate at this point to make a blanket statement before we have heard from the studies,” she said.

Middletown citizens who spoke on the topic also called for Town Council to get more information from the study that had been proposed by Weber and Long, and also from the statewide study.

“I’m a little surprised by the developments tonight,” said Richard Price, of J.H. Dwyer Drive, who indicated he had come to the meeting originally to speak in support of the study proposed by Weber and Long, and did not agree with abandoning that proposal. “More information is always better than less information when you are trying to make decisions. Future councils will need to address these issues, and facts are what give you information, not opinions,” he added.

Given the approval of the motion, Town Administrator Shawn Brown has been tasked with providing, at the next Town Council meeting, information regarding the new amendment. The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 20, in Town Hall.

In other action:

Town Administrator Shawn Brown recognized MaryBeth Silvia, of Middletown’s Department of Finance, for 10 years of service to the town.
Town Council approved a resolution commending Julie Oakley for her work as Property Reuse Coordinator for the Aquidneck Island Reuse Planning Authority, the agency responsible for coordinating the transfer of Navy BRAC property on Aquidneck Island. Oakley recently resigned from her position to pursue other opportunities.
Town Council confirmed the appointment of George Durgin as the town’s Tax Assessor.
Town Council approved the purchase of an additional squad car for the Police Department.