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Wind turbine bylaw faces delay

FALMOUTH – The Board of Selectmen will recommend at tonight’s special town meeting that a controversial attempt to declare the town’s twin wind turbines exempt from zoning laws should be sent back to the Planning Board for more discussion.

Monday, prior to the start of the annual town meeting, the board voted 5-0 to recommend a delay on Article 3 of the special town meeting warrant. The article exempts from the town’s windmill zoning bylaw any wind energy system owned by the town, used for municipal purposes and now in existence. The current bylaw prohibits turbines the size of the two, 397-foot-tall towers now at the town’s wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road. If the zoning exemption passes, it would remove the need for the town to obtain a special use permit for the turbines, a process that began last month and was driven by a Court of Appeals decision that ruled Wind 1, one of the turbines, was illegally erected.

Although sanctioned by the Board of Selectmen, the article did not have the support of the Planning Board, which voted 7-0 to recommend indefinite postponement. Board members objected not only to its content but to the rushed manner in which the selectmen brought it forward. Members wanted more time to review the proposed bylaw to see how it would affect the rest of the town’s zoning laws.

“I think it’s very appropriate to do,” Doug Jones, chair of the Board of Selectmen, said about sending the article back to the planning board .

The matter could still get a hearing at special town meeting tonight, however, depending on the result of the vote at town meeting.

The twin turbines have been a source of controversy since shortly after being installed in 2009. Residents have complained about health effects from their operation and have used a number of avenues to try to shut them down but, until this year, have largely been unsuccessful.

Also Monday, before the start of town meeting, the Board of Selectmen discussed moving future town meetings to the auditorium at Falmouth High School.

Town meeting has been in the auditorium at Lawrence School for years, but selectmen said they want to explore relocating it to the high school. It was there once in the past 10 to 15 years, Selectman Mary Pat Flynn said, but town meeting members overwhelmingly objected to the seating arrangements. The high school auditorium is split into an upper and lower portion; the lower portion, where voting town meeting members would likely sit, has barely enough seats for the entire body.

Jones took an informal vote while giving the board’s annual report at town meeting Monday; those present voted 127-75 in favor of a move. Ultimately, however, the location of town meeting is at the sole discretion of the selectmen.

“Let’s try it and see if it works,” Selectman Sam Patterson said.

Also Monday night, town meeting voted without discussion to approve Article 5, a $2 million continuation of the energy services contract that will provide for upgrading energy systems at town-owned buildings.

Projects completed in the first round of funding covered 12 buildings and included new interior and exterior lighting, upgrading heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems and asbestos removal. This round of funding will focus on repairing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at Town Hall and some school buildings.