An abutter to Barrington High School believes the town may be violating a number of zoning ordinances with its siting of the proposed wind turbine. Kathleen Shafer, who lives at 210 Lincoln Ave., recently requested a zoning certificate regarding the wind turbine, which is slated to be built on the school’s campus. The certificate would act to clarify the project with respect to any zoning implications of the proposed use.
Barrington Building Official Robert Speaker replied to the request by stating that the high school property — and all other town-owned property — was exempt from town zoning ordinances. He said the town has never had to apply for permits for construction projects or renovations to town-owned buildings on town property. “It’s exempt,” he said.
Still, Ms. Shafer said she will appeal the building official’s decision at a July 17 zoning board meeting.
Ms. Shafer, whose home is located just west of the high school, is one of an apparent growing number of residents concerned about the wind turbine project (see box for project details). Some people opposing the location of the wind turbine have started a group called Citizens’ Wind Watch of Barrington, which has its own website, citizenswindwatch.blogspot.com.
Others have filed letters to the editor or spoke at public meetings.
“It’s not just neighbors close to the school,” wrote Ms. Shafer in a recent e-mail. “It includes parents of students who are concerned about the impacts to the school and learning environment, the athletic fields, etc. from all over town.”
In a recent letter to the editor, Ron Russo, who lives on Candleberry Road, wrote that visual flicker and strobe effects could be caused by the wind turbine. He cited studies that showed negative physiological effects — sleep disorders, headaches and dizziness — for people living near wind turbines. “Do we want to subject students, teachers and residents to these negative health effects?” wrote Mr. Russo.
Jill Cuzzone, who lives on Lincoln Avenue, wrote a letter questioning different aspects of the project, including an apparent fast-tracking of the approval process. “Other municipalities interested in harnessing wind power have conducted local wind studies and analyses for many years — Ipswich, Mass., four years. The Barrington energy committee first met six months ago, and while I commend them for their efforts, it seems they have not truly had enough time to consider all the information nor addressed all the issues.”
Newell Thomas, who lives on Nayatt Road and has been working in the wind and solar energy business for three decades, said the town has taken the first step toward constructing a wind turbine, but “the work that has been completed is just the beginning of the effort required to make this project a reality. Now the serious work must begin.”
Town officials say the wind turbine project has been an example of the government not working slowly, something it has been criticized for in the past.
Peter DeAngelis, the town manager, said a number of factors have weighed into the decision of where to place the wind turbine. For starters, the high school is the largest consumer of electricity for any public building in town. Officials say there may be better sites for harnessing wind power in town, but there are currently restrictions from putting the tower in one location and transferring the electricity to the high school.
Officials have also stated a desire to be a leader in utilizing renewable energy sources, which has been an initiative for the governor.
Jim Bride, the former chairman for the renewable energy committee in town, said he understands the concerns of residents, but also recognized the importance of this project.
“The whole issue of sustainability is so important,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “Our energy costs are going up. If there’s anything we can do to mitigate this … this was an opportunity for Barrington to take the lead on this issue.”
In a document drafted by her attorneys at the firm Blish and Cavanagh, Ms. Shafer states the construction of a wind turbine in excess of 300-feet on the site is unlawful and not permitted for a number of reasons:
First, because the high school property is zoned open space-active recreation and wind turbines are not permitted in that zoning; second, because the wind turbine would far exceed height limitations for both principal structures (35 feet) and accessory structures (18 feet) stated in the dimensional regulations table of the Barrington Zoning Ordinance; third, because no provision of the town’s zoning ordinance exempts the town from compliance; and fourth, because the town has no authority to amend the zoning ordinance in order to exempt itself from the necessary requirements.
The building official disagrees. He pointed to the town’s zoning ordinances, chapter 185, section 4 — “Compliance required.” The section includes the provision: “The Town of Barrington itself, both as to land owned by the Town and to governmental activity and use, shall be exempt from the provisions of this chapter.”
Mr. Speaker said he will wait to see what zoning board decides after hearing the appeal, adding that the appeal to the zoning board may be acting as a necessary step in order to take the case to the courts.
Mr. Speaker also said that Ms. Shafer’s request of a zoning certificate on property other than her own was a bit unorthodox. “We give certificates on property that people own and want a ruling on, confirming or denying the legal status … we don’t speculate,” he said.
At the Barrington Financial Town Meeting in May, voters approved a $2.4 million bond to fund the production of a 246-foot wind turbine. The proposed location — between the varsity football and baseball fields at the high school — has become a point of contention. Here are some details regarding the project:
Height: The proposed tower’s height is 246 feet, with blade lengths of 80 feet, offering a total height of 326 feet.
Fall zone: The current location selected by officials places the tower less than 200 feet from the school building, which is well within the listed fall zone.
No interest loan: The town received approval for a $2.1 million no interest loan through the IRS, which may be site specific, meaning that if any location other than the high school is used the loan may be unavailable.
Behind the meter: The high school is reportedly the largest consumer of electricity for all public buildings. This proposed turbine would supply power directly to the school.
— By Josh Bickford
25 June 2008