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Judge OKs pursuit of permit for turbines

CHARLESTOWN – The developer of two proposed wind turbines on an 81-acre parcel north of Route 1 has been given judicial clearance to pursue the special use permit that would allow him to proceed with the project.

Larry LeBlanc, local developer and president of Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC, will be able to take his case to the town Zoning Board of Review after a favorable series of rulings from state Superior Court Associate Justice Kristin Rodgers, who heard arguments from Whalerock, the Town Council and abutters opposed to the plan at a March 11 hearing.

In a 47-page ruling issued late Wednesday afternoon and published Thursday morning on the court’s website, Rogers upheld the contention of Whalerock lawyer Nicholas Gorham that the Planning Commission could act only in an advisory capacity on LeBlanc’s petition, not as a decision-making body on the project. Rodgers also denied appeals by the council and the abutters of Associate Justice Judith Savage’s August decision to remand the zoning board’s 2010 decision affirming that Whalerock’s application to the board was complete. The zoning board subsequently reaffirmed its earlier decision, which would enable Whalerock to be granted a hearing on its request to build two 262-foot-high wind turbines on the site, bordered by Route 1, King’s Factory Road and Quail Hollow Road.

The turbines, which were an allowable use under a wind turbine ordinance approved by the council in 2010 but placed on moratorium after three new members opposed to the turbines were elected that November, can only be built under a special use permit.

“We won on every point we argued in court, and we’re hoping to get before the zoning board as soon as possible,” said Gorham. “I’m really pleased with the result, and we just want a full and fair hearing before the zoning board, which we’ve never had.”

Council President Thomas Gentz said he and other opponents of the proposed turbines were disappointed with the decision, but weren’t sure how they would proceed.

“I think the judge made it clear it’ll have to go back to the zoning board. It was pretty clear (at the hearing) the way she was going to rule,” he said, refusing to comment on whether the town would seek further legal action.

Planning Commission Chairman Ruth Platner said she would not comment until she had a chance to read the entire decision.

Michael J. Chambers, one of 30 named abutters in the suit against the zoning board, argued in an op-ed piece in Wednesday’s Sun that the ongoing struggle over Whalerock “is about one man [LeBlanc] telling the town that no one can tell him what he can do with his property. It is about turning an obscene profit on a piece of land, historically through projects that are not supported by state law, the town’s comprehensive plan, and by rational thought and economics. It is about a man’s willingness to adversely affect his neighbor’s property values and possibly their health, because he cannot think of a way to turn a large profit on his property without possibly hurting his neighbors.”

Opponents of the turbines, including the Charlestown Citizens Alliance and the Ill Wind Coalition, will proceed with a seminar of wind power tonight at Cross Mills Memorial Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Gorham said the platform of a zoning board hearing should enable LeBlanc to offer a full explanation of the turbines’ operations.

“When people hear what we’re proposing, they’ll be comfortable with it and support it,” he said.

Rodgers set a June 14 deadline in her ruling for the zoning board to hear Whalerock’s petition. The agenda for the zoning board’s monthly meeting Tuesday has already been posted. Its next scheduled meeting is May 21, the last before the deadline.

Whalerock’s petition was heard by the Planning Commission in a three-hour proceeding on Sept. 22, 2010.

“The draft minutes of that meeting reflect that the Planning Commission considered Whalerock’s application for approximately three hours for the purpose of this advisory opinion to the Town Council,” Rodgers wrote.

Town Planner Ashley Hahn certified Whalerock’s application as complete five days later, and on Oct. 8, she provided a memo to the council with an advisory opinion. A month later, with Hahn out on maternity leave, Interim Planner Jane Weidman termed the application incomplete, setting off the legal proceedings leading to Savage’s decision last summer.

Rodgers ruled the abutters’ appeal untimely because it was not filed within 20 days of the zoning board’s Nov. 14 decision to reaffirm the completion of the Whalerock application. James Donnelly, lawyer for the abutters, filed the appeal Dec. 13, which he had claimed was timely based on the board’s filing of a Nov. 26 letter to Gorham, which Donnelly claimed should’ve started the clock. Rodgers cited R.I. Supreme Court precedent in denying the appeal.

Rodgers also rejected the town’s appeal that the zoning board had not sufficiently deliberated before its Nov. 14 vote, during which board members voted without elaborating on their votes.