No decision was made regarding the Town of Falmouth’s special permit application to continue operating Wind 1, one of two existing town-owned wind turbines, during a deliberation Saturday by the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals.
The deliberation followed a public hearing on the Town of Falmouth’s special permit application – a response to a Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruling that a special permit should be been obtained prior to erecting the turbine in 2010 - that began in the fall and unfolded over the course of several board meetings. Attending the meeting were multiple town officials, including town manager Julian M. Suso and assistant town manager Heather B. Harper, abutters of the Blacksmith Shop Road turbine and attorneys for both the town and neighbors.
Following a decision-making flow chart prepared by Falmouth special counsel Mark Bobrowski, board members weighed the existing turbine’s consistency with the 2010 town bylaw that was in place when Wind 1 was erected.
They were tasked with determining whether Wind 1 is “accessory”; whether the 50-foot height limitation for community service uses in public use districts applies – both of the Blacksmith Shop Road turbines are 400 feet tall - or whether the turbine fulfills a “municipal purpose” and is therefore exempt from the requirement; and whether Wind 1 meets the performance standards set forth in the town bylaw.
Finally, they addressed whether “the proposed use will not have adverse effects which overbalance its beneficial effects on the neighborhood or the town, in view of the particular characteristics of the site” and after considering the adequacy and suitability of the site for the proposed use; the impacts on traffic flow, safety, neighborhood visual character and affordable housing; the adequacy of sewage disposal methods, water source and drainage, utilities and other public services; and compliance with other bylaw provisions.
Most board members agreed that the turbine is not an accessory structure, as it produces more power than the adjacent Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Plant – and based on that fact, most members said that they would be unlikely to support granting a special permit for the turbine.
Board member Edward Van Keuren voiced support throughout the meeting of approving the permit with conditions – perhaps including the completion of a detailed noise study to determine the proper curtailment of operation hours. However, board chairman Kimberly A. Bielan argued that neighbors testified in the hearing that curtailment would not lessen the impact of the turbine on their daily lives.
The board agreed that the existing structure meets most of the performance standards set by the bylaw, but that the turbine’s operation does have adverse impacts on the neighborhood. Abutters complained during of the hearing of myriad symptoms they suffered as a result of the noise and shadow flicker produced by the turbine. Board member Kenneth Foreman also recalled testimony that ice throw was possible and could impact abutters, but little data was available on the matter.
In considering the last item on the flow chart - whether the “proposed use” would have adverse effects that overbalance its beneficial effects on the neighborhood or the town - most board members agreed that the Blacksmith Shop Road site is both adequate in size and suitable for the proposed use, but that the turbine was sited too close to neighboring properties. Ms. Bielan noted that no testimony was offered relating to visual impacts on the neighborhood, and the board agreed that sewage disposal methods and utilities were adequate and there was no effect on affordable housing.
In reference to the turbine’s compliance with other zoning bylaws, the board acknowledged that it had ruled twice previously that the structure was a nuisance to neighbors.
Mr. Bobrowski will draft a decision within the required 90 days, after which the board will vote on the matter. Following the meeting, zoning administrator Sari D. Budrow said that a vote may not be taken until April.