Planning panel mulls turbine
The Planning Commission has requested additional data about the proposed Taylor Point wind turbine.
The Planning Department is acting as the applicant for the town, and has hired consultants to respond to the questions, according to Town Planner Lisa Bryer.
At the May 16 meeting, Commissioner Rosemary Enright asked for detailed pictures and descriptions on how the turbine will be connected to the transformer and high-tension wires on North Road.
She also requested specifics about the white light atop the turbine’s stanchion. Enright wanted data on the light’s brightness and the impact on drivers’ field of vision. The light might present a night-vision hazard for motorists, she said.
She also asked for a report about the impact on the view from Shoreby Hill and the turbine’s impact on the historic district.
Bryer brought up an issue about the scope of the Planning Commission’s review, an issue Jamestown attorney John Murphy had raised. She suggested sending a letter to the town solicitor to ask for a legal opinion.
Commission Chairman Michael Swistak said he would draft the letter because Bryer technically is representing the town as the applicant for the turbine project.
However, Commissioner Michael Smith objected to asking for the solicitor’s opinion about the commission’s “purview.” Smith said the panel itself should decide that.
“Our lawyers can argue how many angles are on the head of a pin,” Smith said.
“That still doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get an opinion from the lawyer,” Enright countered.
“As long as it doesn’t tie our hands,” Smith shot back.
The panel started to review the project development plan on April 18 but then decided it didn’t have enough information to vote on whether or not to recommend the renewable energy project to the Zoning Board of Review.
The commissioners opted to postpone a vote until they could obtain more details about the project. At that point, the town asked for a continuance until the June 6 meeting, when the town solicitor will be able to attend. The Planning Commission agreed but put the turbine back on the May 16 agenda, specifically to address two housekeeping items.
First, they considered a field trip to see the wind turbine at Portsmouth High School and ultimately voted to approve the field trip, with the date and time to be decided later. Second, the commissioners reviewed additional questions they need answered before making a recommendation for or against.
Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury suggested the consultants should provide comparisons for all the noise levels, so the panel could understand the impact. He also requested a 3-D drawing to help visualize the setback lines. Pendlebury said the commissioners have been told the wind turbine poses few risks to the public, but the consultant ought to provide a “failure scenario” anyway.
Pendlebury said the state was developing standards for the failure scenario. Commissioner Richard Lynn concurred but said the state standards might not be available before the panel has to take a vote on the project. However, Bryer said the commissioners would be able to see the criteria.
Smith asked for size comparisons between the Jamestown turbine and the wind turbines in Portsmouth and on Interstate 95.
The planning commissioners put their initial request for more information on the record at the April 18 meeting. At that time, the panel focused on “setback issues and open-space intrusions,” according to Bryer. But at the May 2 meeting, the list of questions grew. The commissioners had come up with a total of nine issues.
The turbine’s potential impact on property values topped the list. The panel also wanted to see details about the electrical-connection plan. They asked for more data on “low-frequency noise, turbine-safety records and failure rates; historical approvals and recommendations, and more detail on Coastal Resources Management Council involvement.”
Other items requiring more detail where the height of the turbine, the length of its blades, and the distances to surrounding buildings, water tanks and open-space zones.
In other business, the commissioners recommended a plan to build a three-bedroom house on a vacant lot at the corner of Beach Avenue and Riptide Street. The recommendation, which went to the Zoning Board, was subject to conditions, and the Planning Department also stipulated the documents about the property’s “bioretention area” would have to be documented in the recorder of deeds office.
Bryer said she is working this summer on a plan to monitor rain gardens and bioretention areas. Currently, enforcement is done by the zoning officer, but she said the town should establish a way to make sure property owners – including future owners – preserve and maintain any rain gardens and bioretention swales on their land.