NORTH SMITHFIELD – Three years of fighting against a wind power proposal paid off for neighbors Tuesday night when the Zoning Board of Review voted unanimously to reject a 462.5-foot wind turbine off Old Smithfield Road.
The project, first submitted in late 2015 and brought back for review in March, involved installing a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine on land owned by Ruth Pacheco at 810 Old Smithfield Road. The proposal has drawn heavy criticism from neighbors who cite concerns about noise and the “shadow flicker” effect caused by the spinning blades, along with the impact on property values and quality of life.
Green Development, the company formerly known as Wind Energy Development, is behind the project.
After close to 10 hours of testimony from both sides of the debate, the Zoning Board met for a final time Tuesday to issue a decision. Board Chairman Robert Najarian led the deliberations, going through a list of criteria the board must consider in deciding whether to issue a special use permit and height variance that would allow the project to move forward.
Najarian took issue with Green Development’s characterization of the noise, shadows, installation hazards and possible impact on property values caused by the turbine, questioning whether evidence presented by the company adequately addressed residents’ concerns. In particular, he pointed to testimony by neighbors of the company’s other wind turbines who told the board noise from the turbines has impacted their everyday lives. Though company representatives assured board members the turbine would not violate the town’s noise ordinance, Najarian noted the turbine gets louder at night and in winter, times when it would be difficult for authorities to evaluate possible complaints.
“Neither condition would appear to be fair to local property owners or conducive to testing by local authorities,” he said.
Najarian also criticized the company’s defense of the shadow flicker, disagreeing with the argument that a projected 10 hours of flicker per year for some neighbors fell well within an industry standard that considers up to 30 hours an acceptable amount.
“Why should an abutting resident be expected to find one minute of flicker acceptable, never mind 10 hours?” he said.
He questioned the company’s plans to transport the turbine blades, which can reach 100 feet in length, down Old Smithfield Road and said the impact on local property values was too subjective to predict. On the topic of need, he pointed out the business agreement between the company and landowner will generate more than $1.2 million in lease payments for the Pacheco family over 25 years, rejecting the argument that a desire to continue the family’s ownership of the land through alternate sources of revenue constituted a hardship as required by the zoning code.
Najarian was joined in his opinion by other board members, who recognized the thorough arguments on both sides of the debate. Member Mario DiNunzio said he respected Pacheco’s desire to improve her property but found reports by neighbors of the effects of other turbines to be “deeply troubling.”
Board members voted 5-0 to reject the application, drawing cheers from the packed room. For some residents, the fight has dragged on for more than three years after public opposition and legal action delayed the project’s original appearance before the board in 2016.
Though residents were celebrating Tuesday night, the process is not over. Green Development Chairman Mark DePasquale told The Valley Breeze the company plans to appeal the decision in Superior Court.
“It is our intention to appeal last night’s decision,” Bill Fischer, spokesman for Green Development, said in a statement Wednesday. “Renewable development will support Rhode Island’s economy, create the jobs of the future and support our environment. We will continue to move forward to reach Rhode Island’s renewable energy goals.”
Added Pacheco after the meeting, “It is what it is. It’s not done.”
Patrick Dowling, a local attorney who represented the concerns of neighbors, said he finds it difficult to see the decision being overturned after the thoroughness of the board in addressing each requirement for the zoning permits.
“It was a diligent effort by the board to address each of the necessary elements, and I think it shows how much the town’s opinion was taken into account based on the opposition,” he said.
Nicole Valliere, Pacheco’s immediate neighbor and a staunch opponent of the proposed turbine, also expressed relief, saying she was pleased with the board’s diligence during the hearing process.
“I’m so excited. What I think is that the Zoning Board of North Smithfield did an incredible, excelsior job of considering every part of this and looking at every side of the issue,” she said.
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