NEWPORT – The town council may take action Monday on amendments to its tall structures ordinance, once it’s worked all the wrinkles out of the proposal.
The council had a public hearing on the proposed, amended ordinance, which regulates wind energy facilities, at its regular meeting Thursday, after which it postponed action on the ordinance until after a joint council-planning board meeting set for Monday. Councilman David Heath moved to postpone action until Monday, seconded by Councilman Jim McCoy.
Several councilmen were ready to take action on the amended ordinance that night. However, Mr. Heath said there were several unanswered issues, including determining the appropriate height limit for wind turbines and choosing a body to issue permits for wind energy facilities.
“My concern is we’re adopting something we haven’t read,” he said.
One of the biggest items of discussion Thursday was the inclusion of a property value guarantee, a regulation that would require the developers of a wind energy facility to reimburse neighboring property owners if their property values were negatively impacted by the facility. Such a guarantee exists in the current version of the tall structures ordinance, which was adopted in November 2013, but the town planning board’s recommended amendments include removing the guarantee.
While Mayor Pro Tem Ken Davis, Mayor Dennis Barber and Councilmen Mark Eadie and Chuck Shinn were in favor of keeping the guarantee, Mr. Heath had reservations.
“I’m willing to do what’s necessary to protect the people,” he said. “But I don’t want to adopt something that’s just going to open us up to litigation.”
Mr. Eadie said he’s willing to take the chance of going to court over the ordinance to protect the residents of Newport.
“It may be we don’t get it (the ordinance) perfect,” he said. “But until they remove the ambiguity (of wind facility impacts to property) then this guarantee needs to be in there.”
Mr. Davis said this ordinance isn’t about restricting the wind energy industry, but about protecting Newport’s residents.
“The suing threat can come from both sides,” he said, “and I’d rather not get sued by our own people. The state general statutes, if I understand, say the town may adopt an ordinance to conserve the value of buildings.”
Mr. Barber said he’s read many revisions of the ordinance.
“Everybody out here is a town resident,” he said. “I don’t want my property value decreased. This is something we need to keep in the ordinance.”
At the end of the meeting, the council went into closed session to consult with the town attorney on the ordinance. Mr. McCoy moved to go into closed session, seconded by Mr. Shinn.
The current tall structures ordinance was adopted in November due to a hybrid wind and solar facility proposed by Torch Renewable Energies LLC of Houston. They wanted to build it between Newport and Mill Pond but dropped the project Jan. 31.
Four people spoke during the public hearing, including John Droz, a Morehead City resident who was a staunch opponent of the proposed facility. Mr. Droz said Newport is “lucky to have such conscientious councilmen.”
“That’s why the developers left,” he said. “It found out its (Newport’s) people were educated,” he said.
Mr. Droz supports the property value guarantee. He proposed such a guarantee to the Carteret County Board of Commissioners at a public meeting Jan. 6 on the county’s tall structures ordinance.
“Unlike a tax or fee, the town isn’t a direct or indirect benefactor,” he said. “To me, the choice is to have a one-mile setback with a property value guarantee or a two-mile setback with no guarantee.”
The current ordinance has a wind energy facility setback of 2,500 feet. The planning board’s recommended ordinance would increase that setback to 5,000 feet, close to one mile. The board also recommends lowering the allowable noise level at the property line from 45 decibels to 35.
Mike Bell said he thinks there should be protection of property values in the ordinance, as did John Yurko. Both Mr. Yurko and Ross Dotson, another speaker, are adjacent to the site Torch Renewable Energies had selected for its project.
“We feel that those windmills would’ve been in our back yard,” said Mr. Yurko. Mr. Dotson said if the project had gone through, he’s certain his property value would have dropped.
Also at the meeting, Michelle Clements, an engineer for West Carteret Water Corp., spoke during public comments, saying her company intends to extend water lines down Nine Foot Road, Roberts Road, Lake Road and Nine Mile Road. She said they’d been petitioned by people in Newport’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to provide water services to their homes with these extensions. However, she said the company didn’t want to “overstep their boundaries” and was looking for feedback from the council before they signed any agreements.
Town Manager Angela Christian, for whom Thursday was her first council meeting, said this item had been put on the council’s agenda for its budget retreat on Tuesday. She said that after the retreat, she could contact Ms. Clements with the council’s input.
The following also occurred at the meeting:
•The council unanimously approved an amendment to the fiscal 2013-14 budget to reflect a $2,784.90 increase in funds from the state Powell Bill. Mr. Heath moved to approve the amendment, seconded by Mr. Eadie.
•The council unanimously scheduled budget meetings with town department heads at 5:45 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27; Thursday, March 20; Thursday, April 3; Thursday, April 24, and Thursday, May 1. Additional items and a wrap-up meeting will be held Thursday, May 15. Mr. Shinn moved to set the meetings, seconded by Mr. Heath.
•The council unanimously authorized the town staff to purchase and finance a new police vehicle for $35,000. Mr. Heath moved to authorize the staff, seconded by Mr. McCoy.
•The council unanimously granted the Newport Little League permission to build a 12-foot by 20-foot storage building at the town’s Little League ball field. Mr. Eadie moved to grant permission, seconded by Mr. Shinn.
•The council unanimously set a public hearing for the regular council meeting Thursday, March 13, on a request to rezone two lots on East Railroad Boulevard known as “Bells Corner” from R-15 (residential zone with a 15,000 square-foot maximum lot size) to CD (Commercial District). Mr. Shinn moved to set the hearing, seconded by Mr. McCoy.
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