Santa Barbara County supervisors deny appeal of Lompoc-area wind project design
Credit: Mike Hodgson | Santa Ynez Valley News | Mar 31, 2020 | syvnews.com ~~
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An appeal of the design for a wind energy project in the hills south of Lompoc was denied Tuesday by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, which previously denied an appeal of the land use permit granted by the County Planning Commission.
The project calls for erecting 29 wind turbine generators up to 492 feet tall on the ridgetops south of Lompoc, constructing an operation and maintenance building and an electrical substation at the site, a switch yard near Highway 1 and transmission lines from the substation to the switch yard.
George and Cheryl Bedford, who live near the site of the Strauss Wind Energy Project, filed the appeal contending the County Board of Architectural Review could not make the nine findings required about the wind turbines to OK the design, so the decision was improper and an abuse of the board’s discretion.
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They also said the BAR failed to follow the requirements of those nine findings and used a visual policy from the comprehensive plan to circumvent making those findings.
At Tuesday’s special meeting, supervisors denied the appeal of the preliminary project design approval on a 4-0-1 vote, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam recusing himself because his brother represented the appellants.
The remaining four supervisors primarily disagreed with the appellants’ contention that the language of county ordinances could not be interpreted using the policies of the comprehensive plan.
“The general plan sets the framework, and if it didn’t lead to that interpretation, we would not have any industry or energy projects in our county,” said 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann.
She noted county policy encourages wind generation projects while acknowledging certain design functions of turbines can’t be altered.
First District Supervisor Das Williams said design review should not preclude safety ordinances and the ordinance language cited in the appeal was meant for buildings, not wind turbines.
“It’s creative,” he said of the appellants’ argument, “but it does not follow design review of projects in the past.”
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said in the past the practice was, in part, to frown on projects, and it might seem the board looked at the Strauss project differently because it’s “green.”
“That may be the case, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good project on its own,” he said.
County Planner Kathy Pfeifer said technical specifications for certain equipment like the wind generators – including tower height and location and paint colors – can’t be altered to meet the nine findings for design approval.
She said that while BAR members couldn’t make the nine findings for the wind turbines specifically, they made the findings for the project as a whole.
“The only question is if the words of the law mean anything,” said Richard Adam, who represented the Bedfords, later adding, “There is so much wrong here that it’s hard for me to put it into words.”
He pointed out the BAR members said in their meeting they didn’t review the wind turbine towers and, even if they did, couldn’t make the nine findings necessary for approving their design.
He said the language of the nine findings is “unambiguous.”
“You can’t override an ordinance with words from policy,” he said. “You can’t pull in language from another [plan policy] to rewrite the ordinance.”
One member of the public who spoke at the hearing said he is involved with the project and opposed the appeal, noting the appellants live on the other side of the hill from the project that’s been proposed for 20 years, about the time the Bedfords purchased their property.
Two people – one via emailed letter – supported the appeal.
“What we have here is really and truly a problem with ethics,” said Andy Caldwell, representing the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, adding Williams wants utility-scale solar projects but admits county ordinances won’t allow them.
“But the fact is, the ordinances won’t allow this project either,” Caldwell said. “I understand these towers can be seen from up to 20 miles away, and you’re pretending these design guidelines don’t apply. It’s unethical to bend the ordinance.”
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