The St. Paul City Council has sucked the air out of Metropolitan State University’s plans to build a 120-foot wind turbine west of its library on East Seventh Street.
On Wednesday, April 4, the council voted unanimously to support an appeal against the project filed by neighborhood residents Rene and Rachel Lerma. The couple, who live on North Street, noted that while the university itself is exempt from rules governing the surrounding Dayton’s Bluff historic district, the turbine would clearly be visible from within the district.
At Wednesday’s public hearing, they joined two other residents in noting the turbine would overlook Swede Hollow Park and the Gateway Trail, clashing with the aesthetics and appeal of both. The turbine proposal “is negatively viewed by numerous residents, but also something that cannot be reversed once set in motion,” Rachel Lerma said.
Council President Kathy Lantry noted that the city’s zoning rules are silent on wind turbines, which are under study by the St. Paul Planning Commission. The closest comparable structures are cellphone towers, and she doubted that even a cellphone tower of the same height would win approval. The proposed location, she said, is in the university’s “front yard” and “is not in anyway camouflaged.”
“Something that has 16-foot blades that move around constantly is not at all comparable to a cell tower,” Lantry said.
The Planning Commission in February voted to support Metro State’s application for a
three-blade, 20-kilowatt turbine standing atop a pole 104 feet high. Each blade would measure 16 feet in length, for a total height of 120 feet. The commission’s zoning committee had previously recommended rejecting the proposal.
University officials had hoped to use the turbine as a teaching device in the school’s growing science curriculum. Metro State is seeking state bond funds to build a science facility on the south side of East Sixth Street between Mounds Boulevard and Maria Avenue.
The university has sought to reassure neighborhood residents that the wind turbine would not resemble the massive industrial machines seen on wind farms, and it pointed to the positive experience of a 102-foot wind turbine erected on the Macalester College campus 10 years ago.
In a letter to the council, Jesse Bethke Gomez, executive director of the Metropolitan State University Foundation, noted that the turbine is set 140 feet from East Seventh Street and 134 feet from the nearest property line, as well as 500 feet from the historic district.
“The distance from East Seventh Street was developed early on with the city’s planners,” he wrote.
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