NORTH SMITHFIELD – A 2016 fight over a wind turbine proposed for land off Old Smithfield Road resumed this week when residents turned out in force to protest its construction during a meeting of the Zoning Board of Review Monday night.
The application is a continuation of a plan originally submitted to the town in late 2015 by Green Development to construct a 462.5-foot turbine on land owned by Ruth Pacheco at 810 Old Smithfield Road. The company, originally founded as Wind Energy Development, is the same one proposing to build a solar farm off Iron Mine Hill Road.
Members of the Pacheco family present at Monday’s meeting spoke of their intent to preserve the more than 100-year-old family farm using the extra revenue generated by the wind turbine. Joanne Pacheco said her mother plans to continue living on the farm and sees the wind turbine as an environmentally friendly option to continue preserving the land.
“She wants to live on that land and she wants to do her best to protect and preserve it for future generations, as do all the members of our family,” said Joanne.
In 2016, the original plans to construct the turbine were placed on hold after neighbors voiced strong opposition to its location near a residential neighborhood. The area is zoned rural residential/rural agricultural, requiring the company to seek a special use permit in addition to a height variance for the 462.5-foot structure. The project was set to appear before the Zoning Board in spring of 2016 when town councilors instituted a moratorium on wind turbines, later banning them from town as part of the zoning ordinance.
The town later agreed the company could continue with its application for the Old Smithfield Road turbine, which was submitted before the ban went into effect.
The version of the application discussed Monday night was largely unchanged from the original plans. According to company representatives, the turbine would generate 1.5 megawatts of electricity and disturb 1.5 acres of the 51.4-acre property. The turbine, manufactured by a German company, would include a 328-foot tower and three 134.5-foot blades that, when pointing straight up, would total 462.5 feet in height, more than 427 feet beyond the 35-foot limit currently in place.
Though most residents did not have an opportunity to speak during the three-hour hearing, which will be continued on April 9, company representatives tried to preemptively address some of residents’ concerns, including an effect of sunlight in the spinning turbines known as a “shadow flicker.” The flicker, they said, would only affect neighbors for between five and 20 hours per year and provided a map of affected homes. Representatives also claimed noise output would be below 45 decibels, comparable to a conversation, and property values would not be affected once the turbine was built. There can be an impact on values during the permitting process, based on something known as a “fear factor.”
Attorney Patrick Dowling, representing neighboring property owners, contested the company’s claim that the noise of the spinning blades would not prove a nuisance, citing a case in Falmouth, Mass., where the town was forced to shut down two wind turbines due to noise complaints. Dowling, also a town resident, told board members he was opposed to the project based on its location, which he said was inappropriate for a commercial energy development.
“I am opposed to this project based on siting and 100 percent on siting, putting a commercial energy facility in a residential neighborhood,” he said.
There was some confusion over whether the company had to abide by a town zoning ordinance requiring a larger setback from neighboring properties due to the height of the turbine. As a result, the company submitted a second, alternate plan that showed the same wind turbine 160 feet from its original location.
Zoning Board Chairman Robert Najarian kept the meeting within a strict three-hour limit, leaving further testimony from residents until April 9. Dowling told The Breeze residents have many concerns over the location of the structure and how it will affect their properties and quality of life.
“There are a lot of, I think, unknowns of how it’s going to impact them,” he said.
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