WATERTOWN – The Jefferson County Planning Board on Tuesday unanimously approved, with conditions, the Clayton Town Council’s new local wind law proposal, Local Law No. 5.
The Town Council introduced the law at its Aug. 24 meeting in order to update its methods to regulate “the application, development and placement of wind energy facilities to protect public health and safety and to minimize the negative impacts.”
“We obviously agree with the proactive approach in updating their pre-existing laws,” said Jefferson County Senior Planner Michael J. Bourcy.
While the Planning Board approved the proposed law, board members discussed multiple comments and concerns they had with its regulations, particularly setback regulations.
One of the board’s major concerns with the proposed law is that it allows the establishment of setback easements through an agreement between developers and private land owners. Mr. Bourcy said that setback variances are typically granted through a town Zoning Board of Appeals after reviewing variance requests from energy facility developers and property owners.
“Our issue is that this is basically a private agreement,” Mr. Bourcy said.
The board also encouraged the Town Council to include wind energy facility setbacks from state wildlife management areas.
Mr. Bourcy said while the law references potential impacts wind development can have on various forms of wildlife, including birds and bats, the Town Council did not include setback regulations from wildlife areas where these species reside, such as the Chaumont Barrens.
“We feel that maybe they should have specific setbacks from areas mentioned,” he said.
The Planning Board also shared their concerns with items that would help determine setback regulations.
Board Chairman David W. Prosser said the town should include a definition for the word “structure” for clarification of structural setbacks.
“Here we are saying that we don’t know what they are defining it as,” Mr. Prosser said.
Under the law, large wind energy facilities must maintain a one-mile setback from any structure, roadway or property line, but Mr. Prosser said he wondered if the town’s wind overlay district would allow developers to construct wind energy facilities without violating the setback regulations based on its size. Mr. Bourcy said that developers should have to pursue a setback easement in order to develop in the town’s overlay district.
“We just question if one mile is achievable,” Mr. Prosser said. “Is the one mile setback justifiable?”
Under the law, wind energy facility developers would have to pay property owners for any decreases in property value or damages, but the Planning Board encouraged the Town Board to make sure that it has that power under state law.
“These are regulations we have not typically seen in land use regulations,” Mr. Bourcy said.
Mr. Bourcy said that the Town Council should make sure that either the proposed law’s regulations coincide with the town’s Comprehensive Plan or determine if state law requires their plan to govern their proposed law.
Mr. Bourcy also said the Town Council should incorporate any zoning regulations established in the proposed wind law into the town’s Zoning Law to eliminate any discrepancies.
One discrepancy Mr. Bourcy said that the town should clear up is whether it will require special use permits for meteorological towers.
This is required under the proposed wind law, or wind energy permits, which is require under the town’s zoning ordinance.
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