2011-11-24 / Front Page

Legal issues hamper zoning for proposed turbine

BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The Town Council this week quickly decided on a contract for the purchase of electricity for the island’s schools and municipal buildings. But the red flags previously raised around the zoning change necessary to accommodate another source of electricity – the wind turbine proposed for Taylor Point – were even more numerous by end of the meeting.

The council met on Nov. 21. The zoning issue had already been flagged by the Conservation Commission, which has concerns about relinquishing the Open Space (OS) protections provided to the Taylor Point site selected for the turbine.

Currently, Jamestown requires a special permit for wind turbines, but they are flatly prohibited within OS-1 zoning districts. During the council meeting, Conservation Commission Chairwoman Carol Trocki reiterated her support for wind energy, in general, but warned – as she has in the past – that “a spot [zoning] change could set a precedent for other changes down the road.”

Changing the zoning at the Taylor Point site, Trocki added, would “undermine the thoughtfulness that went into the [OS-1] designation.

We ask you to ensure that the public is kept aware of any proposal for a change, as well as the impacts on the viewshed and access to the area.”

The zoning issue was not debated by the council because the councilors weren’t provided with background documents in their packets. However, Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero apprised them of their options while reminding them that each of the options could spark appeals and other legal actions.

Any significant delays in the project could scuttle a $750,000 grant from the state, which – under the terms of Rhode Island grants for renewable energy initiatives – requires the projects to be launched (if not completed) by the end of March 2012. Pointing out that any decision on the OS-1 designation has to be “legally sustainable,” Ruggiero outlined the options that the council could consider.

Under the first option, the council could change the OS-1 text in the Zoning Ordinance, but “that would raise a lot of policy issues.” Under the second option, the council could expand Taylor Point’s “public zone,” in which turbines may be built. However, an expansion will require a series of hearings before a fi nal decision, all of which Ruggiero pointed out are “appealable events which could use up a lot of time and money.”

Under the third option, the council could consider a “map change” in which the town creates an entirely new zoning district. Each of the three options “involves different procedures and potential legal consequences,” Ruggiero said, warning that “the best legal option might not necessarily be the best policy option.”

In the meantime, the town has sent out its solicitation for a consultant to perform all of the studies and paperwork necessary to proceed with the turbine project.

Responses to the request for qualifications are due by Nov. 29, with a decision on a contractor to follow in early January.

If the turbine is built, the town will sell electricity to National Grid at a retail rate, although it remains to be determined if the income will offset all of the costs associated with building and financing the project.

Currently, electricity produced by terrestrial wind turbines is selling for approximately 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour. By contrast, the price locked in by the council, this week, for three years of municipal electricity purchases is 7.04 cents per kilowatt hour. The price was offered by Direct Energy through the League of Cities and Towns, and endorsed by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, who was unable to attend this week’s meeting.

Town Engineer and Public Works Director Mike Gray, who filled in for Keiser, said the deal will save Jamestown approximately $30,000 a year because the town has been paying over 9 cents per kilowatt hour under the terms of its current deal.

Another solicitation of particular interest to Jamestowners is the pending request for bids to rebuild the Rembijas pavilion. Gray said that he is in the process of writing the solicitation, which, he hopes, will be advertised during the first week of December – with a contractor recommendation to follow in early January.

One solicitation that was settled at this week’s meeting involved the request for local residents toProtection Committee. A current member of the committee, Dick Lynn, had asked the council to reappoint him. However, an Oct. 27 letter from committee Chairman Jim Rugh argued that “Mr. Lynn’s lack of attendance [at Tree Committee meetings] does not, in my opinion, justify his reappointment as a voting member” of the panel.

Councilor Ellen Winsor, who was the lone councilor to vote against Lynn’s reappointment, read from Rugh’s letter each of the 12 months (in the past 18) when Lynn had failed to attend a meeting. But council President Mike Schnack noted that no one else had applied for a seat on the committee.

He also said that Lynn had not attended the meetings because, as the Planning Commission liaison to the Tree Committee, Lynn “didn’t think he could participate in [Tree Committee] votes.” In other business, the council:

• Approved – while sitting as the water and sewer commissioners –water-service requests from Jack Brittain, who is converting the top two floors of the 19 Clinton Ave. house owned by Windridge Properties into apartments; and from Heidi Steele and Karla Bartley, who will be operating a yoga studio and retail store at the 42 Narragansett Ave. property owned by Jeff McDonough.

• Slated for Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. a work session of the council and the School Committee for preliminary discussions on the committee’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012-13.

• Slated for Dec. 5 its consideration of the updated Harbor Management Plan.

• Voted against holding a second council meeting in December, which would have been held on

 

 

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