SHELBURNE – While Shelburne voters banned commercial windmills from their town on Tuesday, the move won’t automatically stop the controversial Mount Massaemet Windfarm.
The wind farm proponents pulled a pre-emptive legal maneuver Monday, when they filed subdivision plans for the land where the four 328-foot-tall windmills would be located.
That move may have shielded the Massaemet property from the windmill ban adopted by town meeting Tuesday – because zoning rules that apply to a new subdivision are those in force at the time the plans were filed.
This means the current wind proposal could go through the special permit process with the Zoning Board of Appeals as it would have before the ban was adopted.
A group of 45 Shelburne residents had proposed articles that were intended to block commercial wind turbines by banning them outright, at least until the town had a wind turbine bylaw in place. That ban still applies to any other proposals.
On Monday, wind farm developer Frederick D. Field submitted preliminary subdivision plans for the Gould Maple Farm Inc. on Cooper Lane and for land owned by Stevens and George A. Dole of Anderson Road – the two properties where the 6-megawatt wind farm is proposed to be sited.
According to Massachusetts General Law, if written notice of such submissions is given to the town clerk, the land is “grandfathered” under the then town zoning bylaws.
Planning Board Chairman V. Matt Marchese said Field would need Planning Board approval of the subdivision plan Planning Board, before going to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a special permit for an electrical generating wind farm. “This is not the last step for any windmills,” he stressed as discussion began at town meeting Tuesday on proposals to ban windmills.
But news of the Massaemet workaround seemed to galvanize the audience of roughly 300 people to throw more support behind the wind ban and the moratorium.
Sheep farmer Michael Parry, one of the residents who campaigned for the commercial wind ban, said Field was not the only developer to approach farmers with a wind proposal, but that Field was “pre-empting the process by proposing a subdivision. The state is paying close attention to this,” he said at the meeting.
Also speaking at the five-hour meeting in Memorial Hall, physician Robert Jaros urged, “I think we absolutely should vote these bylaws in … Even if (they) have no legal effect, they will have a moral effect.”
Last Friday, Field told an audience at a Planning Board hearing that he supported the moratorium and would hold or withdraw the wind farm proposal if town meeting voted down the wind ban.
On town meeting floor, a resident who had come prepared to vote for the moratorium only, said he would now back the ban, because of Field’s “end run.”
ZBA member John Taylor pointed out that everything the wind turbine applicant has done is permissible under current town bylaws. “It’s perfectly legal to do what they’re doing under current law; however, the town has the right to change its mind about the bylaws.”
Larry Gould, one of the landowners involved with the wind turbine proposal, said discussions of the project has taken place over the past three years. He said the proponents are still studying wind conditions. “Even if we had all the permits tomorrow, we don’t know the conditions are right (for a wind farm).”
“Right now, we’re just trying to protect ourselves,” he said. Alluding to the many generations that his family and other farm families have been on the ridge overlooking the Deerfield River valley and Shelburne Falls, Gould said, “We’ve been there a long time; we’re probably not going to do the wrong thing at the spur-of-the-moment.”
So many people came to annual town meeting that they couldn’t all be seated by the 7:30 p.m. starting time. As a result, the meeting began a half-hour late, and voters stayed until past midnight, to vote ‘yes’ on all four wind turbine issues.
Residents voted down the idea of using paper ballots, and a two-thirds vote was required for each proposed bylaw change.
They voted 229-46 in favor of an article allowing small wind turbines for “on-premises use” and voted 196-57 in favor of a definition for small turbines for home, farm or business use. The vote on excluding commercial wind turbines passed by 195-57.
Everyone voted in favor of the moratorium, which was adopted after midnight.
The sense of the meeting was that the ban would stop all other windmill proposals except Field’s while the town planners could study the issue and perhaps develop a set of zoning regulations allowing commercial windmills under certain conditions. Such changes could be substituted for the outright ban in the future.
The rest of the annual town meeting has been continued to tonight at 7 p.m. in Memorial Hall, when voters will wrap up more routine business.
Field, a Shelburne landowner, but not a registered voter here, watched the meeting from a visitors’ section in the upstairs balcony of Memorial Hall.
He said Wednesday that his next step will be to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals about his special permit application for the four wind turbines.
Gould could not be reached by telephone Wednesday afternoon.
On Wednesday, Patten Hill opponents of the commercial wind farm, said they were pleased by the large voter turnout and the support they gave the articles.
Michael Parry said it’s too early to know what the next steps will be. “We’re certainly happy that the town sent a clear message about (commercial) wind,” he said. “Mr. Field has said repeatedly he wanted to know what the town thinks. The message couldn’t have been any clearer.”
Those who drafted the commercial wind ban say they are concerned about possible health risks to people living within 2 miles of the turbines. They say those especially vulnerable to health effects from the repetitive low-level sound of the turbines would be children, the elderly and people with prior histories of migraine, motion sensitivity and inner ear problems.
They are also concerned that the road work needed to accommodate hauling the large turbine components would change the character of the scenic, rural area, and that the presence of the turbines would lower property values.
However, they wrote in two articles regarding “on-premises” windmills for home, farm and business use, which they believed would have fewer potential risks while helping farmers and residents reduce their electricity costs.
Planning Board and ZBA officials did not recommend supporting the residents’ wind articles; they said it would be better to wait for a more thorough bylaw that the Planning Board hopes to produce next year. They also said it is easier to get a vote on a new bylaw than to rescind this year’s wind bylaws in favor of new ones.
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