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Delay likely for zoning hearing on Falmouth wind turbine

FALMOUTH – A Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on the town’s application for a special-use permit for one of its twin wind turbines will be postponed, attorneys for the town and residents said.

The hearing remains on tonight’s ZBA agenda and will be open to the public, said attorney Christopher Senie, who represents a cluster of neighbors who have been fighting the turbines’ operation. The board is expected to not have enough members to hear the matter, necessitating its delay. Zoning Administrator Sari Budrow would not confirm the delay, but said there was a “possibility” the hearing would be continued without hearing any testimony.

Frank Duffy, Falmouth’s town counsel, said the new date is Oct. 29, but Senie said he’ll be pushing for a shorter delay.

In June, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied Falmouth’s petition for further review of a Court of Appeals ruling that the town needed zoning approval before installing Wind 1, one of the two turbines located at the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Building Commissioner Eladio Gore had ruled that, since the 397-foot-tall turbines were owned by Falmouth and being installed on town land, zoning laws didn’t apply.

The suits brought by a cluster of neighbors were based on the town’s zoning bylaws, which exempt town buildings from the zoning permit process but don’t specifically exempt wind turbines. Although turbines don’t have to be named to be covered by that bylaw, the Court of Appeals wrote that, since the town has a bylaw specifically for wind turbines, it is reasonable to conclude that the devices were not intended to be exempt from the zoning process.

The Appeals Court stopped short of ordering the town to shut down Wind 1 until a special permit is issued, however. The turbines are already operating on a reduced schedule under a November 2013 order from Barnstable Superior Court Judge Christopher Muse.

Following the ruling, neighbors petitioned the ZBA for a cease-and-desist order to shut down the turbines while the new zoning review was under way. But the board voted Aug. 20 in favor of Gore’s ruling that they remain operational, Budrow said. The board will review its written order on that vote at tonight’s meeting, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the Board of Selectmen’s meeting room at Town Hall, 59 Town Hall Square.