NORTH SMITHFIELD – Power-generating wind turbines will not be allowed anywhere in North Smithfield according to a plan laid out by the town’s ordinance development committee and lawyers working with the non-profit Conserve Our Unique Rural Town.
The concept will soon go before the Planning Board with intent to fast-track the legislation into municipal law.
The plan comes in reaction to a proposal from Wind Energy Development Inc. to build a 465-foot-tall turbine on Old Smithfield Road.
C.O.U.R.T. was formed by a group of neighbors in opposition to the structure, a massive proposal for Ruth Pacheco’s 50-acre farm, which some say would be the tallest in Rhode Island.
“Why don’t we just say that we don’t want wind turbines in this town?” asked Scott Lentz, a member of the town’s Planning Board who is also serving on the Ad Hoc Ordinance Development Committee.
“There’s 13 other towns – fully 25 percent of Rhode Island – that’s already done that. Would you like to consider saying ‘hey, we did our research and we just don’t think it’s viable to put them in town?’”
Lentz said the committee – tasked with coming up with a comprehensive plan for the town following an emergency moratorium on the structures passed last May – came to the conclusion after extensive study of the issues surrounding turbine development. The ordinance that the group was in the process of drafting, he said, was so extensive that they realized it might make more sense to ban turbines entirely.
“It has now become obvious to us it’s going to be very limiting in any use of wind turbines to be installed and upgraded in North Smithfield. At this point our question is: is it really worth the effort to finalize this draft?” Lentz asked.
He words came with loud applause from neighbors in attendance at the Town Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 15. The group has been fighting in state courts and on the local level against the proposed turbine since the project first came before the town’s Zoning Board last April.
Led by abutter Sharon Mayewski and represented by a group of local attorneys, C.O.U.R.T. has worked to defeat the plan, submitted by North Kingstown-based developer Mark DePasquale.
The Town Council passed the emergency ban on turbines in May at C.O.U.R.T.’s urging, a decision that was challenged in Superior Court by the developer. But according to town Solicitor David Igliozzi, it has been determined that the moratorium does not apply to WED’s Old Smithfield Road project.
“They’re following the normal process under the existing law,” said Igliozzi.
WED had filed complaints claiming they had suffered financial harm from the town’s process, but Igliozzi said those counts have been dismissed.
That leaves WED to make its case before the town Zoning Board, as the project still requires approval of a special use permit and a zoning variance.
Monday’s action was largely focused on ensuring that the town does not find itself in the same position again.
Lentz outlined some of the issues his board took into consideration as members attempted to write an ordinance for any future proposed turbines.
“It’s the fall zone. It’s the shadow flicker, and how it can affect people. It’s the ice throw, and the conditions where it might be throwing ice off the blades to other people’s properties. The noise generation on other people’s property. The emergency response requirements of a tower that’s 100 feet tall. You know, we don’t have the equipment or the personnel for that right now. Also, preventing trespass on neighboring property,” he said.
“What are the effects on the environment?” Lentz asked.
“The other issue people are concerned about is: what’s it look like? Do you really want a wind turbine on your horizon when before what you had was just an open horizon? Do we just say it doesn’t make sense?”
Ordinance committee members noted that rather than pass a detailed ordinance, the town could simply adjust the zoning use table to state that turbines are a use prohibited in every category of property.
“We did our research and found that it’s just not viable to put it in town. Let’s take the easier route and say that they don’t belong in North Smithfield,” said Lentz.
Councilor Paul Zwolenski, who has also sat in on the ORC meetings, said he was fully in support of saying “no” to all turbines.
“The ORC spent hundreds of hours looking at this,” said Zwolenski. “There are scientific reasons to say no across the board.”
“I feel good because when I read all of this, the scientific reasons to say no, they’re all here.”
The council unanimously voted to send the proposed adjustments of the use table before the Planning Board for review of consistency with the town’s comprehensive plan at a meeting scheduled for Sept. 1. The zoning change would then be required to go back before the council for a public hearing and a vote Sept. 19.
To ensure the town remains on track with the plan, C.O.U.R.T. submitted a request for changes to the use table. Town law dictates that the Planning Board must act on such citizen requests within 45 days, so council members agreed to start that process concurrently.
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