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Study stalls windmill plans; Couple's effort at green energy was premature.

Byline: Matthew Bruun

FITCHBURG - Gregory and Michelle Lemay may have started the ball rolling on the city's efforts to enact an ordinance governing the location of wind turbines, but they may not be the first residents to benefit from it.

Though a majority of the Zoning Board of Appeals voted Tuesday night in favor of granting the Lemays' request for a variance to build a 120-foot windmill behind their energy-efficient home on Oak Hill Road, the measure fell one vote short of the threshold needed to pass.

Critics of the Lemays' plan, including several city councilors, urged the ZBA to hold off on a vote until a citywide ordinance on wind power could be enacted. A public hearing on the draft ordinance is scheduled next month.

Mr. Lemay, who estimates he has spent $5,000 on his efforts to build the turbine at his home, said the draft he has seen was too restrictive and "doesn't look promising for the city of Fitchburg."

After the meeting, Mr. Lemay said the board "missed a great opportunity" to make a statement on the importance of renewable energy.

"We are not going to let a few neighbors speak for the majority of people that are being crippled by high electric bills," he said. "We will be strong advocates for the city to begin the inevitable process of change."

Among the many issues discussed during the hours of hearings on the petition was the value of "fall zones" around the tower, which would be 1.5 times the height of the tower. Mr. Lemay argued the engineering of the towers was such that requiring massive distances from neighboring structures was unnecessary.

"You can't have a fall zone and think we're going to be for renewable energy in the city," Mr. Lemay said after the meeting.

Mayor-elect Lisa A. Wong, who did not attend the ZBA meeting Tuesday night, said she was in favor of the city looking at alternative energy sources.

"What's happening now, which is trying to craft an ordinance, is extremely important," Ms. Wong said yesterday. "I welcome the city being proactive."

The City Council, which has just begun discussing a draft ordinance on wind power, wrote the ZBA last month asking its members to hold off on a vote on the Lemay petition while the citywide measure was discussed. Six councilors attended the Tuesday night hearing.

On Tuesday, Mr. Lemay said he had been working on his petition for five months and wanted a vote that night. The board voted 3-2 in favor of granting the variance, but the measure needed four votes to pass. Dissenting members Michael E. McLaughlin and Matthew C. Straight said they couldn't support the variance while the ordinance was in progress.

The crowd that stayed in City Hall for the vote consisted mainly of neighbors in opposition.

"That's the reason for ordinances, to protect the abutters," Councilor Joel R. Kaddy said, flanked by the Lemays' neighbors. "If we're going to do this, let's do it right."

Mr. Lemay said there was no danger to the abutters, explaining that the engineered structure would not topple onto their property. The neighbors were also concerned about the visual and noise impact of the turbine.

ZBA Chairman Vincent P. Pusateri II, who voted in favor of the variance, thanked Mr. Lemay for focusing the public's attention on renewable energy.

"I want to thank you because you obviously brought this to a head in the city of Fitchburg," Mr. Pusateri said as he shook Mr. Lemay's hand after the vote.

Board members James M. Concannon and Edward L. Niemczura also voted in favor of granting the variance.

Describing his vote against the petition, Mr. McLaughlin said the city was still moving ahead in the exploration of renewable energy.

"We can't and should not vote favorably on this before we have an ordinance in place," he said.

Mr. Straight said he was concerned about the turbine's proximity to neighboring property lines and the "fall zone" of the structure, but gave less consideration to concerns about its operating noise or the risk of ice flying off the windmill blades.

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Nov 15, 2007
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