A year after Longview resident Ken Spring installed a vintage windmill on his 3-acre property without a permit, the City Council adopted new zoning rules that allow for small wind energy systems.
“I just hope it’s over,” Spring, 72, said Friday of his battle with the city. “When they told me they didn’t have any criteria for permitting windmills, I said, ‘Well, good, I can put one up. They said, ‘Oh no.’ … That was a shock to my system. I think it should be the other way around. If they don’t have criteria for things, you should be able to do it.”
Under the new zoning code chapter, which becomes effective in 30 days, windmills and wind turbines on towers may be installed anywhere in Longview except in the downtown commerce district and the Civic Center District south of Maple Street.
For lots 2.5 acres and smaller, the maximum height allowed is 40 feet, with a minimum setback of 44 feet from adjacent properties. For lots greater than 2.5 acres, the maximum height allowed is 60 feet, with a minimum setback of 66 feet. The windmills must be a non-obtrusive, have a non-reflective color, and rotor blades must be a minimum of 15 feet from the ground at their lowest point.
Windmills erected purely for decoration are limited to 20 feet high in residential areas. A separate set of rules applies to building-mounted windmills and turbines.
Spring put up his windmill to pump water for his fruit trees. His next step, Longview Planning Manager Steve Langdon said Friday, is to apply for a windmill permit, which entails demonstrating the structure is properly engineered. That shouldn’t be a problem for Spring, who had hired a state-certified engineer to supervise and sign off on the windmill project’s construction. (Spring did obtain a city permit to drill the 80-foot-deep irrigation well.)
Spring bought his 30-foot tall, 1940s refurbished farm windmill at a swap meet. When he first inquired in 2011 about getting a permit to put it up, city staff said the matter needed to go before the Longview Planning Commission because the city had no windmill regulations.
“I thought I was going to walk in there and walk out with a permit and pat on the back – ‘Yeah, that’s a green project,’ ” Spring said Friday.
Spring was given two options at the time: He could pay the city $2,200 to request a zoning change that would allow windmills under to-be-determined conditions, plus another $532 for a state environmental review. Or, Spring could argue that windmills were a community issue and hope that a City Council majority would direct staff to create a draft ordinance and take it through the public process for adoption.
Outraged at the prospect of paying nearly $3,000 to get a “green” project permitted, Spring tried to go the City Council route. But the council member he contacted forgot to follow through.
Spring put up the windmill behind his house off of 33rd Avenue in early 2012 anyway, and city staff threatened to slap him with civil infractions and fines. Gearing up for battle, Spring deposited $25,000 into a “windmill legal defense fund,” and said city staff could take down his windmill when they pried his cold, dead hands off of it.
The Planning Commission spent four monthly meetings last year developing a draft zoning chapter that included wind turbines as well as windmills. The council finally adopted it Thursday after striking out a section prohibiting building-mounted wind turbines on residential lots 6,000-square-feet and smaller.
Spring said he likes his windmill so much that he’s thinking about getting a wind turbine to generate electricity for his house. On second thought, he said, “This has been going on for two years or better, and it’s been kind of a thorn in my side, so I’m not sure I want to go through that again – it looks like it’s going to be so complicated.”
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