Windmill ban too close to zoning for some

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Some of those who oppose a wind energy farm in Carroll are against a ban on such structures, saying the county shouldn't be able to tell people what to do with their land.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Some residents of the Sulphur Springs District are of two minds: they don’t want windmills, but they also won’t support zoning to keep them out, according to a discussion at the Carroll supervisors’ February meeting.
That’s making the way to address the windmill issue complicated, county officials discussed after Chairman David Hutchins shared with fellow supervisors the feedback he has received from citizens.
The supervisors had considered prohibiting tall structures on ridge tops in answer to the possibility of a wind farm on Stoots Mountain, but then worried that proposal would stifle other kinds of development.
Wind mills became the most-discussed topic at the February meeting as the supervisors spent half an hour trying to figure out what to do.
Supervisor Josh Hendrick favored making a decision without further delay.
He wondered if the county board could adopt an ordinance to prohibit windmills with an expiration date first, in order to give officials time enough to draft other windmill regulation. That would buy the board time, he said.
Hendrick added that he hasn’t talked to any land owners or representatives with EDP Renewables to find out where they stand.
If the company applied for a Department of Environmental Quality permit for its project, Hendrick didn’t know if the things Carroll County could do would make any difference.
That state permit has a 90-day turnaround time. “We’ve been talking about this for eight months….” Hendrick said.
The company would have to apply for a building permit in Carroll in order to proceed, Hutchins said.
“Not for DEQ,” Hendrick said. “DEQ is separate.”
County Attorney Jim Cornwell noted that a company would have to get the DEQ permit as a part of that process and get a certificate from Carroll that the construction of the windmill complied with all local ordinances.
Then, DEQ could issue that permit the day after the company received the certificate from the county, Cornwell continued. At that point, the company could file for the building permit.
“As Josh said, we have gone back and forth,” Hutchins said. “At least as of now, the proposed sites tend to be in Sulphur Springs.
“No one wants them in their backyard….” the chairman said. “As I talked to folks there, even some of the folks who live over in that area, there’s no one that wants them placed there.
“But when you start asking about, okay, we’ll restrict this, someone will say, ‘But I want to be able to do what I want to do with my land,’” Hutchins continued. “And I have had some folks to say, ‘This smacks of zoning and although I’m against it, I will not support zoning.’”
It puts Hutchins in a “quandary,” because he wants to support the people of Sulphur Springs and what they want, he said. “There’s a belief that if we put an ordinance out there that restricts the use of [land for windmills], we’re doing a back door zoning, a spot zoning scenario.”
It makes it a challenge, because some people have threatened a proverbial lynching if the county officials support zoning.
Supervisor Phil McCraw said a couple of his constituents in the Fancy Gap District have already let him know he shouldn’t vote for anything resembling zoning measures.
Would the supervisors like Cornwell to develop a restrictive ordinance? Hutchins asked. An ordinance will require a public hearing.
“I think it would be beneficial to adopt something that’s prohibitive for now,” Hendrick said. “I don’t want to say well we’ll get to it….”
It’s not a fast or easy thing and Hendrick would like to get an ordinance right. He’d rather there be no project than an unregulated project, he added.
Supervisor Bob Martin asked Cornwell how long it would take to draft a restrictive ordinance.
The county attorney believed he could get a draft to the supervisors by the March meeting. Cornwell had shared with the supervisors a similar proposal from Floyd County already.
The best course is to schedule a public hearing on a draft ordinance and then adopt it, Cornwell advised. He recommended against adopting a rule that would expire, because people tend to lose track of those kinds of things.
“I just don’t want to drag our feet — I’m not saying we’re dragging our feet, that’s just the process, it takes that long,” Hendrick said. “I don’t want the process to get us in trouble.”
Hutchins preferred to look a restrictive ordinance, because it would probably be easier to defend than a prohibitive one.
The chairman asked Cornwell to bring a restrictive proposal to the next meeting. Then supervisors could set a date for a public hearing in April, if the supervisors like the draft.
“I think it’s time to get off the fence. I swear, I don’t know which way to jump,” Martin said.