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Foster Twp. Planning Commission not sold on wind turbine proposal

Within 13 minutes, the Foster Township Planning Commission decided an energy company’s proposal to construct wind turbines on three tracts of local land does not fit the township’s land development and comprehensive plans.

The commission will forward its opinion to the township zoning hearing board, which is set to reconvene a hearing on the proposal Thursday.

The proposal by EDF Renewable Energy would construct up to 500 wind turbines, each about 500 feet tall, across three locations – on reclaimed mine land near the Eckley baseball field, on the Green Mountain to the east of Beech Mountain Lakes, and on Buck Mountain to the north of the Lausanne Township line.

Initially, the energy company took its proposal to the township zoning hearing board, but the zoning board postponed a decision until the planning commission could weigh in on whether the turbines fit the municipality’s comprehensive plan.

The planning commission convened a public hearing last week to hear EDF speak on the perceived benefits of the proposal and to answer citizen questions.

An attorney representing EDF attended last week’s meeting, but company owners did not.

The planning commission paused the meeting until Monday, to give company owners opportunity to attend.

When the planing commission reconvened Monday, an attorney representing the company was once again in the audience, but company owners were not.

“With all due respect, you’re wasting our time,” commission Chairman Jeff Searfoss said to EDF’s attorney.

“We took a continuance of our last meeting so your client could be here,” Searfoss continued.

Joel Wolff, attorney for the energy company, replied, “With all due respect, this hearing should be taking place before the zoning hearing board, not the planning commission.”

Searfoss reiterated that the commission did not intend to render a zoning decision, but to gather information to help determine whether the turbine proposal fit the township’s comprehensive plan.

Wolff said he could answer questions on behalf of EDF, but commission member Tiffany Buchman said she felt no need to proceed with questions. She said she is convinced the proposal does not fit the township’s comprehensive plan.

“Any development on these properties must be similar and compatible with the current uses. Currently, those lands are used for agriculture and conservation. This proposed use is not similar and is not compatible. It does not fall within the comprehensive plan of the township,” Buchman said, tendering a motion to advise the zoning hearing board of the proposal’s incompatibility with the township land development and comprehensive plan.

“I don’t believe there is any benefit to any resident of Foster Township,” Buchman said.

Her motion won the board’s approval.

Searfoss asked the audience of about 25 citizens for comment.

A man who did not identify himself called out, “Thank you,” as a round of applause broke out from the audience.

After the 13-minute meeting adjourned, Wolff said he maintains his legal opinion that the final decision on EDF’s proposal must come from the zoning hearing board, not the planning commission.

Wolff said he will be on hand to represent the company at Thursday’s zoning board hearing.

Searfoss said the commission acted in accordance with township comprehensive plan.

“We are required to follow certain guidelines and it’s pretty clear what a project has to be in order to conform to those guidelines. There’s not much else we could do,” Searfoss said, unfurling a map of the land development and comprehensive plan, which shows the top of Green Mountain as zoned conservation. The targeted area near Eckley is zoned agricultural. The section of Buck Mountain eyed by EDF is zoned light industrial, which Searfoss said might be able to accommodate the wind turbine proposal.

The discussion will continue before the zoning hearing board Thursday at 6 p.m.