Penn Forest Township residents voiced their opinion Tuesday night on proposed changes to the wind turbine ordinance, being made after a company submitted two applications.
Township solicitor Thomas Nanovic said any amendments made to the ordinance as a result of the workshops would not affect the applications currently before the zoning hearing board or the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas.
Those applications, both from Atlantic Wind, were filed under the ordinance as it is currently written. The revised ordinance will only apply to applications made after the revisions are enacted.
The idea of revising the ordinance came from township resident Marcus Laurence. Laurence undertook considerable research into wind turbines when Atlantic Wind first came before the township zoning board seeking approval to build up to 37 industrial wind turbines on property belonging to the Bethlehem Water Authority located in Penn Forest Township.
The land owned by the water authority is zoned residential.
Through his research, Laurence realized that the existing ordinance did not take into consideration information regarding wind turbines and possible issues that can result in residential areas as well as possible effects on human health, wildlife and migratory birds.
Laurence provided the township with proposed changes to the ordinance.
The township hired Charlie Schmehl of Urban Research and Development Corp. to revise the ordinance.
“We left it up to Charlie to make the changes because it is his area of expertise,” Nanovic said.
Schmehl reviewed the revisions, including:
• Increasing the setbacks to occupied dwellings to four times the height of the turbine and adding a maximum height of 450 feet.
• A provision for setbacks for creeks and waterways.
• A maximum woodland clearing of 10 percent of the total proposed tract.
• The audible sound level was left at 45 A weighted decibels, but a provision was added to make it a maximum noise level and not an average.
• Addition of a provision for a noise study every five years to show compliance with the ordinance.
In a number of paragraphs Schmehl had used the phrase “If an application involves more than four wind turbines …” indicating that the paragraph would not apply otherwise.
This raised a concern for a number of residents in attendance because it was believed that it could be used as an opportunity to circumvent the ordinance by only building four wind turbines at a time.
The one single paragraph that Schmehl added, which did not exist in the original application and raised a considerable stir among those present was a paragraph that said, “Wind turbines may be placed upon the same lot as another allowed use.”
Phillip Malitsch, a principal objector to the original Atlantic Wind application, pointed out that the land in question is zoned for residential use and as such only permits a single principal use.
“On residential lots there should never be two principal uses,” Malitsch said. “Otherwise you are reverse engineering a residential zone into a quasi-commercial zone.”
Malitsch also suggested that baseline studies for sound, water quality and flow and such should be made before construction, and that post-construction studies should be conducted to confirm compliance with the requirements of the ordinance.
Laurence addressed the board as well. Laurence was upset because he had only one day to review the proposed amendments and reserved the right to address the board at a future date when he had more time to review. Nanovic assured him that he would have the time to do so.
Laurence, like Malitsch, objected strongly to the second permitted land use.
In regard to other parts of the ordinance, Laurence pointed out the lack of standards being applied.
Particularly in regard to “shadow flicker,” which was a new paragraph added by Schmehl, Laurence asked:
“What are the standards? How will they be applied? We have a township filled with A-frame, glass-front houses. I have read that when people have an issue with shadow flicker, they were told to purchase “blackout shades” to mitigate the problem. There is no way to mitigate flicker on a glass-front house.”
Laurence also suggested a change to incorporate a different daytime versus nighttime noise level requirement.
“The perception of sound at night is very different than the perception of sound during the day,” he added.
Laurence also asked that infrasound levels be addressed by the ordinance as well.
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