SHELBURNE – The Planning Board’s intention to move forward on a windmill siting bylaw raised concerns from some residents that the board would try to overturn a ban on commercial wind turbines – a ban approved by 77 percent of the voters at annual town meeting in May.
But because the ban also included a provision to allow “on-premises” wind turbines for homes, farms and businesses, Planning Board members said siting criteria for smaller windmills will be the primary focus of its efforts, at least for the 10 months before next spring’s annual town meeting.
Planning Board Chairman Matt Marchese said the board “is charged with doing the work of all the people of Shelburne,” and should at least discuss commercial-scale wind power. He said discussion of commercial wind power should not be taken off the table for the Planning Board.
“I want to have the conversation,” he said. “I’m committed that this process will focus on premises’ use, but where we can, we may look at commercial (wind turbine) uses that may be more appropriate in other areas” other than on Mount Massaemet, which was where a wind farm was proposed last year.
He stressed that the Planning Board can’t enact any bylaw without the support of a town vote.
Marchese and Planners Doug Finn and Beth Simmonds said they believed some who voted for the ban primarily did so because they were upset by a last-minute move by Mount Massaemet developer Frederick Field, to file a subdivision plan the day before annual town meeting, which could have “grandfathered” the rights to go through a special permit process for a wind farm – regardless of a townwide ban or a town moratorium on wind development.
New Planning Board member John Wheeler said he has questions about the “gray areas of industrial wind,” but thinks the board should focus mostly on residential, farmbased or business-based turbines. “I wonder if we are putting too much on our plate,” he added. “I think premises’ rights needs to be done by the next town meeting.”
Marchese said the board’s $5,000 technical assistance grant from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments must be used up by December, and that he would contact FRCOG Planning Director Peggy Sloan about a consultant to help expedite the bylaw planning process.
Also, the Planning Board is to meet with the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals in September, to discuss town zoning bylaws and areas that need clarification.
The board is also considering whether to form an advisory committee, to assist with research on wind issues. This board could include representatives from the Board of Health, Conservation Commission and other town boards, as well as residents.
The board read several letters received from residents in the meeting minutes.
Raymond S. Hartman of Shelburne sent the Planning Board a letter saying the board “did not get the message of the town meeting vote” banning industrial-scale wind power, and urged them to respect that vote. He said wind power is “an evolving science” and said complaints have arisen in other towns besides Falmouth.
Judith Truesdell urged the board to hold a public hearing to find out whether residents are even interested in on-premises wind turbines. “I’m very concerned about the board spending this much energy on this issue.” She said the board might better spend its time on bylaws for other types of alternative energy, such as solar or biomass facilities.
Kevin Parsons wrote that the town’s “overwhelming vote was ‘no’ for industrial wind, and that the town would benefit more from a siting bylaw for residential, on-premises turbines.