PLYMOUTH – A seeming confluence of factors rendered the Zoning Board of Appeals’ hearing on Stop & Shop Supermarket Co.’s plan for a wind turbine difficult for some attendees to grasp.
The company wants to erect a 275-foot wind turbine behind its Myles Standish Plaza store, located off Route 6, and needs a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to do so.
In the end, the ZBA denied the permit request Wednesday night, but only after hearing several hours of sometimes confusing testimony.
Ed Angley, who represents Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., said it’s unlikely his client will appeal the decision.
You could say the hearing got off to an unappealing start.
It was hot because the meeting was moved from Town Hall to the Nathaniel Morton Elementary School across the street in order to accommodate all 70 of the attendees, and the room was not air conditioned.
It was also loud.
The high ceilings buzzed with fans, causing a loud background hum that made it difficult and sometimes impossible for the audience to hear what was going on. Attendees repeatedly asked speakers to change where they were standing and to raise their voices so they could be heard above the sound of the spinning fans.
Experts for and against the turbine held forth, sometimes for as long as half an hour, relating intricate, technical information at times and citing studies that supported their positions.
David Paliotti, an attorney representing Algonquin Heights, which is within 600 feet of the proposed turbine, said the turbine would cause his client’s property value to plummet, could cause serious health problems triggered by sleep disturbances and would also be an eyesore. He took issue with a doctor hired by Stop & Shop who, during the last meeting, argued that there is no evidence that wind turbines are a health hazard. And Paliotti also referenced a forum in which the doctor repeatedly admitted he didn’t have answers to questions pertaining to wind turbines.
Local attorney Ted Bosen made an equally emotional appeal in favor of the turbine proposal, and seemed to suggest that Algonquin Heights residents are not so much concerned with the turbine as they are with adopting whatever stance the owner of the complex holds. Bosen dismissed testimony of an acoustics expert who made a presentation earlier, saying that his positions lacked scientific backing, and were based largely on opinion.
Kerry Kearney, who serves on the town’s Energy Committee, said the proposal is “the worst wind turbine site in the state.”
While she said she’s neither for nor against the project, Director of Elder Affairs Conni DiLego questioned erecting any structure that could impact the health of even one resident.
Kevin O’Reilly presented a petition signed by dozens of residents in favor of the plan. At the request of an audience member, O’Reilly rattled off street and road addresses of petition signers, revealing locations far from the site.
“It’s not in your backyard is it?” one audience member responded.
One woman argued that, per the special permit requirements, the turbine would provide a clear public benefit since it would offset the company’s utility bills, thereby lowering the price of food.
Another woman who asked to speak claimed she was neither for nor against the turbine proposal, but then spoke against it.
Further complicating matters were audience members who addressed the group saying they represented someone else, either for or against, and read a letter from that party to the audience.
The most dramatic appeal, perhaps, came in the form of Edward and Sue Hobart, who said they have been forced to literally abandon their $500,000 home in Falmouth because of the health impact the wind turbine there had on them. They said they have been forced out of the home and must now sell it for $335,000.
“I have wind turbine syndrome,” Sue Hobart announced. “I was diagnosed by Mass. Eye and Ear. I hit the deck and fell flat on my face. I have an inner ear problem I never had before the turbine went up.”
ZBA member Bill Keohan said, later, that the Hobarts’ claim their home was worth $500,000 was inaccurate, according to real estate records.
Each side seemed intent on discrediting the other’s experts. Those in favor of the turbine stressed that it would replace fossil fuels, and would be a wonderful green addition to the community. Those against said the turbine could trigger sleep disturbances and cause property values to decrease in addition to creating an eyesore. Studies were rolled out, as each side argued that science supported its position.
After three hours of discussion, the board closed the public hearing and expressed its own diverging views.
ZBA Chairman Peter Conner noted that the proposed site for the turbine is already noisy and congested. If the turbine offsets utility costs and lowers the price of food, that is a clear public benefit, he added.
While global warming is a serious concern, ZBA member Michael “Buster” Main said the benefit of this project lies only with the applicant.
“I believe this project is way too close to residential space,” Main said. “For the folks at Algonquin Heights – if it goes up, they’ll have to just deal with it.”
Keohan countered that the applicant has met the requirements of the bylaw, and the project should, therefore, be approved.
“Distance matters,” ZBA member David Peck opined, saying he is against granting the permit because the proposed structure is just too close to residences.
“One guy says this and another guy says that,” ZBA member and local attorney Ed Conroy said, referencing expert testimony on both sides of the debate. Stop & Shop has not demonstrated a clear and specific public benefit, Conroy added, and said he’s against the proposal.
The vote was 3-2 against granting the special permit, with Conner and Keohan the lone votes in favor.
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