BERLIN – Jericho Power has obtained both planning and zoning board approvals to add three wind turbines to land abutting its current wind project on Jericho Mountain.
The planning board Tuesday night approved the site plan for three 2.85-megawatt turbines on land leased from Allen Bouthillier on Jericho Mountain and Mount Forist.
Jericho Power last year received approval to place three turbines on Jericho Mountain on land owned by David Brooks.
Planning board approval for the three additional wind turbines contained three conditions: 1) the turbines can not exceed 500 feet in height, 2) they must meet the 25-foot setback requirement measured from the tip of the blade, and 3) Jericho Power must negotiate a decommissioning plan with the city attorney to cover the removal of all structures and returning the site to its current conditions if the turbines cease operations.
At its February meeting, the zoning board unanimously voted to grant Jericho Power a variance and special exception. The city requires all energy projects to file for a special exception and the towers also required a variance for height.
Representing Jericho Power, a subsidiary of Palmer Management Corporation of Cohasset, Mass., Lindsay Deane explained that the new turbines are basically an extension of the project underway and will use much of the infrastructure being developed for phase one. She said there will be one access road and the project will connect to an existing transmission line.
She said permitting for the second phase is underway and her company has submitted its interconnection application to both ISO-NE and Public Service of N.H. Deane said Jericho is in the process of negotiating agreements to sell the power and renewable energy credits generated by the project.
Deane said new project has been designed to avoid the overlay zone on the summit of Mount Jericho and to ensure the turbines are not visible from downtown Berlin. The turbines will be visible from Page Hill Road and from Cates Hill.
The closest residence to the turbines is over a mile away and Deane said the project will comply with the city’s noise ordinance. The Federal Aviation Administration requires lights on top of the turbines but there will be no other lights on the structures.
Included with the application were two studies on the impact of wind projects on property values. Deane said property values will not be reduced by the project and no nuisance or unreasonable hazard will result from it.
While ice can accumulate on the blades, Deane said the technology is designed to shut down if a rotor imbalance is detected and the blades are heated to melt the ice. Most ice will fall within the rotor length but signs will be posted warning about the potential for ice drop.
Foundation and site work for the first phase got underway last fall. Deane said the hope is to get all the necessary permits for the second phase this summer and then order the turbines. She said Jericho Power hopes to be operating before 2016.
She also provided a list of local subcontractors and professional services the company is using for the project.
Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme read a letter from the Berlin Water Commission indicating the department discussed concerns that the project could affect the power supply to the water treatment facility and Jericho Power has convinced the department it will not be an issue.
In other business:
* Laflamme asked the board for feedback on changing the zoning on the section of downtown north of the Mason Street bridge. Currently the zoning in the downtown does not allow residential use on the first floor. Laflamme said the goal was to encourage retail businesses in the downtown.
But she said recently there was some interest in the old courthouse building owned by the city. The building has been vacant since the Berlin District Courthouse was built and the city would like to see it reused. Laflamme said recently there has been some interest in the building but the party wanted the flexibility to convert the entire building into housing. Laflamme said she has spoken to Main Street Program head Sylvia Poulin and a number of downtown merchants about changing the zoning on that section of the downtown to business general which would allow multi-family housing by special exception. She said the reaction has been supportive. Laflamme noted that section of Main Street has less of a retail feel with the library and fire station there.
While the 1999 housing study indicated a surplus of housing units in the city, Laflamme said there has been interest in developing housing specifically for people 55 and older. She said there are people that age looking to downsize and want maintenance-free housing. Some travel to warmer climates in winter months but want to return to the North Country to be with friends and family the rest of the year.
“It’s a small market but it exists,” said Laflamme.
Board member Tom McCue said he liked the idea of mixed use in that area of the downtown. Laflamme stressed there is no solid proposal for the courthouse.
Board member David Morin, who owns a downtown retail business, said he feels the city needs to be creative in how it revitalizes the downtown. He said the courthouse is a historic building and said he is willing to look at options that would allow it to be maintained.
Downtown merchants will be meeting next Monday to give feedback on the idea and Laflamme said if there is support, she will draft language for the board to review.
* The board rejected a request to consider amending the zoning ordinance to allow an automotive repair garage in a residential general zone by special exception. Elizabeth Amato of 534 Champlain Street said she and her husband would like to operate an automotive repair shop at their property. She noted her property is across the street from Sinbaldi’s Restaurant and Blanchette’s Garage is just around the corner. Amato said allowing the use by special exception would provide the city an opportunity to set conditions such as hours of operation.
While some home businesses are allowed in a residential general zone, Morin said they are passive uses. He said an auto repair shop is different. Board Chair Ernie Allain said usually auto repair shops include storage of items outside like tires and drums. McCue said he shared the concerns raised by other board members. Morin pointed out there are sufficient areas in the city where auto repair shops are allowed.
* Morin announced that after over a quarter of a century on the board, he will step down when his term expires in April. He noted he has served three full terms and is not eligible for reappointment. In addition to those terms, he served years as the council representative on the board.
Laflamme asked if he was willing to serve as an alternate member.
“I think it is time for me to step back and take a break,” Morin replied.
Laflamme, who noted Morin’s tenure on the board predates her employment with the city, expressed her sadness at his decision.
“I can’t say how valuable you have been to this board,” she said.
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