ANTRIM – The Planning Board voted 4-3 Thursday to not recommend a petition warrant article calling for a zoning amendment to allow the construction of commercial wind farms.
The 11-page ordinance written in part by wind farm developer Antrim Wind Energy will appear on the voting ballot in March, after 42 registered voters signed the petition. The article needs a majority vote to pass, according to Diane Chauncey, secretary for the Planning Board.
Thursday’ meeting was a continuation of a public hearing on the petitioned zoning amendment held on Jan. 16. The board received 12 letters from residents weighing in on the petition, with only one writing about wind energy in a favorable light.
Since the proposed ordinance was not written by the Planning Board, the purpose of Thursday’s meeting was to decide if, as board member Martha Pinello explained, “this is an appropriate land use ordinance that we should recommend.”
The ordinance would allow for the future development of commercial wind farms in the highway business district and the rural conservation district, according to the petition. These districts include Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain which is the same location where Antrim Wind Energy previously wanted to construct a 10-turbine commercial wind farm.
Planning Board Vice Chair Charles Levesque and alternate board member Janet McEwen both read off lists of concerns they had regarding the ordinance and other board members either brought up additional points of discussion or commented on the worries of others. There were no defining points the board was against or in favor of.
While going through his list of concerns, Levesque addressed the two districts in question with this ordinance. He said the purpose of the rural conservation district is to protect the mountain area of the town. The town has 11 mountains and hills within its rural conservation district, including Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain. Levesque said the proposed ordinance does not amend the purpose of this district in a way that would allow the construction of wind farms.
He also said the proposed ordinance doesn’t have any wording on aesthetics. “It says it does address these things but it doesn’t.”
When the State Evaluation Committee voted down an application from Antrim Wind in February of 2013, to construct a 10-turbine commercial wind farm on Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain that committee’s main reason for voting down the application was over concerns of visual impact of a future wind farm project.
“I think that some people feel that if they can see [wind turbines] then that’s visual impact, and I don’t think that’s fair,” Board member Gordon Webber said at the meeting.
The board discussed how the ordinance does not identify what is visual impact nor how wind farms could avoid impacting the town’s aesthetic value.
The new petition ordinance would limit wind farm noise to 50 decibels during the daytime and 45 decibels at night, or 5 decibels above normal ambient sound, whichever is greater. The maximum height of turbines is limited to 500 feet.
Proposed setbacks are 2,200 feet from occupied buildings and 1.1 times the turbine height from property lines, and 1.5 times the turbine height from public roads. This part of the ordinance was a concern for some board members since, Levesque said at the meeting, in recent weeks a wind turbine in Pennsylvania fell a distance more than 1.1 times the height of the tower. He said that if the tower had fallen in Antrim, it would have definitely crossed property lines.
Board members in favor of recommending the proposed ordinance included Chris Condon, Gordon Webber and Steve MacDonald. Those not in favor included Jesse Lazar, Charles Levesque, Martha Pinello and Sarah Vanderwende.
Board members referred to state statutes at the meeting regarding Planning Board recommendations and, because this ordinance is being proposed by town residents and not the Planning Board, the statement that will appear under the article question on the ballot will state, “The Planning Board does not approve the zoning ordinance amendment.”
Following the meeting, Pete Burwen of Antrim said he thought it was a good decision to disapprove the amendment.
“We need to make sure this doesn’t turn into a pro-wind, anti-wind discussion. Because it’s not about that, it’s about the ordinance,” Burwen said. At least, he said, this tells the voters, the board is not behind this.
“I think the Planning Board has the best interest of the town and the land and the people,” said Peter Moore of Antrim following the meeting. “I concur that this is not a sound petition warrant article.”
Moore said Antrim Wind may soon start distributing flyers around town to convince residents otherwise with the positives of wind. He said the company did this last time there was a vote regarding a proposed zoning ordinance.
Cindy Crockett of Antrim, who attended the public hearing on Jan. 16, said in an interview Monday, “I think that what’s important to recognize is that we didn’t hear from a large portion of the town. … “I’d like to just encourage everyone to be at any town voting and Town Meeting, and to be informed.”
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