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City of Sinton rejects plan for wind turbines at high school

Two city of Sinton boards met behind closed doors before rejecting variances Monday night that would have allowed the Sinton school district to construct two wind turbines at the high school.

Residents were divided over the project. It would have offered the district electricity savings and real-world learning for math and science students, but it also was unappealing to some residents worried about the visual impact and noise.

The Sinton Independent School District sought variances from a city ordinance adopted last year that regulates wind turbine construction. The variances would have allowed the district to build two 150-foot turbines using $974,000 in federal grant money and $243,000 in district funds.

School officials planned to use the turbines to save on energy and to teach children practical applications for math, science, engineering and physics.

The plan drew opposition from residents worried that an exemption for the project would set a bad precedent and cause noise and aesthetic problems for nearby property owners the ordinance was meant to protect.

“The city’s ordinance that they are basically trying to get the board of adjustment to gut has language in there that protects adjacent property owners such as my family from impacts of wind turbine generators,” said John Barrett, developer of several subdivisions near the high school.

Lori Treviño, an elementary school principal who lives across the street from the high school, said she felt school officials addressed worries about noise, safety in a hurricane and the so-called flicker effect – moving shadows created by spinning blades that neighbors can find annoying.

Treviño said the turbines offer something Sinton students have never had.

“I don’t think our kids have the opportunity right now to see us going forward with protecting the environment and going green,” she said.

The boards deliberated both decisions behind closed doors for a total of about 90 minutes while more than 30 residents – an unusually large crowd for Sinton – filled the City Council chambers.

The Planning and Zoning Commission met in closed session for about 20 minutes before publicly announcing a recommendation to deny the variances. Texas open government laws require governmental bodies to take votes in public.

The Board of Adjustment then met in closed session about 70 minutes before taking a public vote. Three members voted in favor and two voted against, but city rules require 75 percent approval for variances, so the measures failed. Member Joe Escamilla, a school district employee, abstained.

No closed session was on the meeting agenda and, when the Caller-Times objected to the closed meetings, City Attorney Heather Meister would not identify the provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act that authorized the closed session.

The district was under a tight schedule to move forward with the project because federal funds from the Department of Energy had to be spent by the spring, school Superintendent Steve VanMatre said.

A snag occurred when he returned from holiday break in January and learned the plan conflicted with the ordinance passed in October.

VanMatre said the district would have approached the city sooner about the variances had it known of the requirement.