CHARLESTOWN – The Town Council may not have any legal cards left to play in its fight against two proposed wind turbines, but it will not walk away from the table.
The council voted unanimously Monday night to authorize Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz to hire a special counsel to represent the town at the May 21 Zoning Board of Review hearing at which Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC will seeking a special use permit to build the turbines on a site north of Route 1 between King’s Factory Road and East Quail Run. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at Charlestown Elementary School.
The motion presented by council President Thomas Gentz allows the town to spend up to $50,000 to hire the special counsel and arrange for any appropriate experts to provide testimony at the hearing.
“We’ll start at 9 a.m.” today, Gentz said, adding that “it won’t be hard” to put together its case in time for the hearing.
The council discussed the move in executive session before Monday’s monthly meeting, then took the vote immediately after returning from deliberations. The move was prompted by a state Superior Court decision on April 10 that dismissed suits brought by the council and a group of residents living near the site who tried to slow or halt the regulatory process.
Gentz said the council was advised by Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero that the decision of Superior Court Associate Justice Kristin Rodgers eliminated any legal options the town had remaining. The ruling supported local developer Lawrence LeBlanc’s quest to build the wind energy project .
“It was really the judge that put the town against the wall. When she remanded back to the zoning board, she said the town could not appeal,” Gentz said.
“We felt a special counsel was necessary, and can bring a lot of testimony about the impacts of industrial turbines on the town.”
Neither Gentz, elected to the council in 2010, nor Ruggiero, solicitor the past eight years, could recall a previous instance of Charlestown hiring a special counsel. Ruggiero said he would still participate in the hearing on behalf of the town.
LeBlanc proposed the turbines in 2009 after failing to win approval for affordable housing at the site. He has been fighting the town since an anti-turbine majority was elected to the council in 2010 and imposed a moratorium on wind power plants. LeBlanc argued that his application to the zoning board was substantially completed, though an interim town planner ruled otherwise in 2010, and that his plans only needed an advisory opinion from the Planning Commission, not its outright approval.
Rodgers’ decision ruled that a previous appearance LeBlanc had made before the commission satisfied the advisory requirement, and that the council and the residents’ group had not offered substantial reason to deny him a hearing.
Under town ordinance, a wind turbine plant can only be granted under a special use permit, to be granted by the zoning board.
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