Penn Forest Township supervisors held a special meeting on Tuesday night for residents to comment on proposed changes to the township’s zoning ordinance pertaining to wind turbines.
At the conclusion of the meeting the supervisors voted to send the draft to the Carbon County Planning Commission and the Penn Forest Township Planning Commission for review and comment.
The board agreed to amend the current ordinance after residents raised concerns over the two applications pending in the township by Atlantic Wind to build turbines on land owned by the Bethlehem Water Authority.
Township solicitor Thomas Nanovic said any changes would not apply to the current applications but would apply to any future applications for a special use exception for a wind turbine project.
The first Atlantic Wind application has been deemed approved and is currently being appealed in the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas. The second application is currently being heard before the township’s zoning hearing board.
The proposed ordinance has greater setbacks and reduced the maximum height of the turbines to 300 feet. The township added waterway setbacks, beefed up the sections on decommissioned turbines and added forest preservation provisions.
The new ordinance also adds a 42 C-weighted decibels noise limit for nighttime noise measurements. C-weighted refers to “infra-noise” which is not commonly specified, but has been linked by some health experts as causing health issues to people living in proximity to wind turbines.
Charlie Schmehl, vice president of Urban Research and Development Corporation, who is consulting on the ordinance, added sections to address bird and bat strikes, shadow flicker, traffic studies, emergencies, lightning and fire hazards, property valuation analysis, ice hazards and visual analysis.
Nanovic said some of these requirements, such as property values, are not a reason to deny an application, but the inclusion allows the zoning hearing board to consider the impact and to set conditions on the applicant to lessen the impact.
Township resident Marcus W. Laurence has been one of the most outspoken residents in opposition to the Atlantic Wind applications, and lives close to the proposed project.
Laurence has protested that the current and proposed ordinances allow wind turbine as a special exception in the residential zone. He said a simple change to the zoning ordinance to limit turbines to the commercial district would solve the problem.
Nanovic has said that it simply cannot be done that way. He said getting an ordinance before the planning commissions sooner, rather than later, is the best way to proceed at this time.
“I do not want perfection to be the enemy of progress,” Laurence said. “I will however continue to show up at township meetings for the foreseeable future to ask for the zoning change.”
Resident Bill Mauro provided the board with a copy of a summary of a study compiled by the World Health Organization about health impacts caused by wind turbines. Mauro said he was bringing the information to the board’s attention because the board had not had the opportunity to hear the experts who have testified at zoning hearings on behalf of the opposition to the wind turbines.
Mauro suggested board members “educate” themselves.
Attorney Debra Shulski addressed the board on behalf of Atlantic Wind. Shulski said she had the right since Bethlehem Water Authority is the largest land owner in the township.
When residents objected, Chairman Warren Reiner suggested that they leave. After a few minutes most of those who opposed her speaking removed themselves, with a few vowing to vote the board out of office.
Shulski provided a letter to the supervisors detailing concerns that her clients had with the draft ordinance, but spoke of only two specific items.
Shulski said out of the 1,300 wind turbines in the state, only eight are less than 300 feet in height. She said the industry standard is currently between 450 and 600 feet and the restriction to 300 feet would essentially exclude all wind turbine projects. That would be restrictive zoning, she said.
Shulski addressed the use of a C-weighted noise specification. She said she is unaware of any industry standard that could be used as a model.
Shulski’s letter called the new ordinance “unconstitutionally vague,” adding that it “ lacks any objective standards and provides the zoning hearing board with unbridled discretion to establish conditions without providing any objective standards.”
Her letter concludes, “The proposed ordinance amendment contains numerous ambiguous, inconsistent, and subjective terms and terms which are substantively invalid and unconstitutional in that they fail to establish a standard for uniform enforcement and administration.”
The board sent the ordinance to the planning commission, which has 30 days to respond with comments and recommendations to the supervisors.
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