No decision was made Saturday regarding the Town of Falmouth’s special permit application to continue operating Wind 1, one of two existing town-owned wind turbines, during a just under two-hour deliberation by the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals.
The deliberation followed a public hearing on the Town of Falmouth’s special permit application—a response to a Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruling that a special permit should be been obtained prior to erecting the turbine in 2010—that began in the fall and unfolded over the course of several board meetings. Attending the meeting were multiple town officials, including town manager Julian M. Suso and assistant town manager Heather B. Harper, abutters of the Blacksmith Shop Road turbine and attorneys for both the town and neighbors.
Following the presentation of a decision-making flow chart prepared by Falmouth special counsel Mark Bobrowski, board members weighed the existing turbine’s consistency with the 2010 town bylaw that was in place when Wind 1 was built. They were tasked with determining whether Wind 1 is “accessory;” whether the 50-foot height limitation for community service uses in public use districts applies—both of the Blacksmith Shop Road turbines are 400 feet tall—or whether the turbine fulfills a “municipal purpose” and is therefore exempt from the requirement; and whether Wind 1 meets the performance standards set forth in the town bylaw.
Finally, they addressed whether “the proposed use will not have adverse effects which overbalance its beneficial effects on the neighborhood or the town, in view of the particular characteristics of the site” and after considering the adequacy and suitability of the site for the proposed use; the impacts on traffic flow, safety, neighborhood visual character and affordable housing; the adequacy of sewage disposal methods, water source and drainage, utilities and other public services; and compliance with other bylaw provisions.
On whether the turbine is accessory in nature, board member Kenneth Foreman noted that it does not have a large footprint relative to the lot.
“The hard part for me is use because it generates so much more power than the wastewater treatment facility,” he said.
Wind 1 has been shut down since September, when the board issued a cease-and-desist order in response to an appeal by neighbors. Since Wind 2 is the only turbine currently operating and generating power, board chairman Kimberly A. Bielan said, “Is this turbine [Wind 1] the surplus?”
The Town of Falmouth argued during the hearing that it will need additional power in the future, but the argument did not convince Mr. Foreman. The board, he said, is deciding on the special permit now.
Only board member Edward Van Keuren said that he would consider the structure “accessory,” but he admitted, “It’s a big accessory use.”
When board members were asked later by Mr. Bobrowski if they would support granting a special permit for the turbine based on their answers to the first question, the majority, excluding Mr. Van Keuren, said that they would not.
During a discussion of adverse impacts on the neighborhood, Mr. Van Keuren said that he would support approving the special permit with conditions. He suggested mandating the completion of a detailed noise study to determine proper curtailment of operation hours. But Ms. Bielan argued that based on neighbors’ testimony, curtailment would not lessen the nuisance caused by Wind 1 and could even exacerbate existing problems.
Mr. Foreman questioned how important testimony was versus the technical studies they were presented. He has visited at least one of the affected homes and said that he heard “an audible effect” of the turbine.
“If you were there for 10 or 15 minutes or even a half an hour, you could tolerate it,” he said. “But it’s a constant, ongoing thing that I think would be very difficult to live with.”
The town and other supporters of the turbine point to a lack of evidence linking wind turbine operation and health issues. However, Mr. Foreman said, the impact of the turbine need not rise to the status of a health impact to be considered a nuisance under the bylaw.
Mr. Bobrowski steered the board toward the question of whether the impact of Wind 1 on its neighbors is more detrimental than not.
“Hearing this thing at all hours of the night? I wouldn’t want to live near it,” board member Paul Murphy said. Of the testimony offered by abutters, he said, “I believe it to be credible, honest, and I don’t believe that anyone out there has an agenda.”
The board agreed that the impact was more detrimental than not. Mr. Van Keuren maintained, though, that they could mitigate the problem with conditions.
The majority agreed that the Blacksmith Shop Road site is both adequate in size and suitable for the proposed use, but that the turbine was sited too close to neighboring properties. Ms. Bielan noted that no testimony was offered relating to visual impacts on the neighborhood—another item on the flow chart—and she and other members agreed that sewage disposal methods and utilities were adequate and there was no effect on affordable housing.
In reference to the turbine’s compliance with other zoning bylaws, the board acknowledged that it had ruled twice previously that the structure was a nuisance to neighbors.
Mr. Bobrowski said he will draft a decision within the required 90 days, after which the board will vote on the matter. Following the meeting, zoning administrator Sari D. Budrow said that a vote on the matter may not be taken until April.
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