Albemarle County Planning Commission

September 9, 2008

 

 

The Albemarle County Planning Commission held a meeting, work session and public hearing on Tuesday, September 9, 2008, at 6:00 p.m., at the County Office Building, Lane Auditorium, Second Floor, 401 McIntire Road, Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

Members attending were Thomas Loach, Jon Cannon, Vice Chairman; Bill Edgerton, Linda Porterfield and Calvin Morris, Chairman.  Absent were Marcia Joseph and Eric Strucko.  Julia Monteith, AICP, non-voting representative for the University of Virginia was absent. 

 

Other officials present were Rebecca Ragsdale, Senior Planner; David Benish, Chief of Planning; Megan Yaniglos, Senior Planner; Scott Clark, Senior Planner; Wayne Cilimberg, Director of Planning; Bill Fritz, Chief of Current Development; Mark Graham, Director of Community Development and Greg Kamptner, Deputy County Attorney. 

 

Call to Order and Establish Quorum:

 

Mr. Morris called the regular meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. and established a quorum.

 

            Work Sessions:

 

Wind Turbines (Mark Graham)

 

Mr. Graham made a power-point presentation and summarized the executive summary. (See power-point presentation and executive summary)

 

·         The purpose of the work session is to review a proposed approach for allowing some wind turbines in the county and to seek Planning Commission guidance on the extent of regulation.  Currently, wind turbines are not allowed as a use in any zoning district.  Recognizing the County’s interest in promoting renewable energy sources, the Board has expressed interest in considering changes to the Zoning Ordinance that would allow wind turbines to be allowed.

·         The Planning Commission on May 13, 2008 advised staff that there was no interest in pursuing an ordinance amendment for large commercial wind turbines at the time.  This was primarily in recognition that there were limited opportunities for commercial wind turbines in the county and those opportunities conflicted with other county values.  The Planning Commission did express interest in pursuing an ordinance amendment that would allow smaller wind turbines that are accessory to other uses on a property.  With respect to issues related to wind turbines, the Planning Commission recognized the limited wind speeds in the county that made it appropriate to provide flexibility with respect to constraints, but provided little additional guidance.   

 

1.     Does the recommended approach appropriately balance the interest in the County in promoting wind energy with other County values?

2.     Are Supplemental Regulations an appropriate way of establishing conditions for wind turbines?

3.     Should wind turbines be restricted in the Entrance Corridor as staff has recommended?

4.     Should wind turbines be restricted on the mountain ridges, which is not something that staff is recommending at this point?

5.     Should collocation of cell phone antennas or wireless facilities be prohibited on the wind turbine tower, which is something staff has recommended?

6.     Are there other concerns that need to be addressed such as tower types and colors?

 

 

Mr. Morris invited questions for staff.

 

Mr. Cannon noted that Mr. Graham mentioned that there are more stringent FAA requirements for towers that are located on ridge tops.

 

Mr. Graham replied that it could be, but he was not sure how the FAA makes the determination in which ones are important or not.  Staff looked at the Comp Plan and other things for guidance and that the primary concern would be with the lighting of the facility.   If they could avoid the need to light the facilities they thought that they had addressed a lot of the concerns.   Staff’s recommendation was to use supplemental regulations.  If the Planning Commission feels that the circumstance is warranted, they could waive the lighting provision.

 

Ms. Porterfield said when she read the two sections from other areas that proposed language for Albemarle County seemed way too loose.  When information provided indicated that Albemarle County was not very windy, she felt that the logic of people using these turbines is pretty slim.  A 200’ structure would be visible for a long distance.  She noted that they are having enough trouble with cell towers, which approach 100’.

 

Mr. Loach questioned how to resolve the difference between the cell tower and wind turbines.  He noted that monopoles are 30’ above the trees.  He asked if they would propose a balloon test.

 

Mr. Graham noted that this goes back to the challenge of the balloon test, which costs approximately $2,000. 

 

Mr. Cilimberg noted that it was a public purpose question.

 

Mr. Cannon suggested that there might be some middle ground.  The Rockingham Ordinance had limits of 65’ or 80’, but something considerably less than 200’. Maybe it is not technically or economically feasible, but at least land owners would have the choice to put on their land something that many land owners consider a traditional option for them. 

 

Mr. Graham pointed out that the most effective area for wind turbines in this county will be along ridge lines.  When one gets on the ridge line there are options.  If the wind turbine can’t be put up far enough above the trees to make it efficient the alternative is either don’t build a wind turbine or cut all the trees down.  Cutting the trees down would be by right.

 

Mr. Loach noted that it would bring limited benefits to a limited amount of people.  Therefore, they can’t base it on ratios.   He would like to hear from any rural organizations such as Farm Bureaus that might have more experience in dealing with this. .

 

Mr. Morris agreed with Mr. Cannon. From what he heard at the seminar at James Madison University many of the wind mills, as they know them, are down in the valley.  It is like a valley that they might find if they walk down the mall that they have a tunnel of wind or a wind situation that is caused if one is in the valley.  If a farmer or whoever wants to erect a wind mill/wind turbine at a certain height that is not extrusive, etc. he would like the people to at least have that legal option to pursue this with restrictions.  He commended staff for bringing this subject back up again.  There are a number of Commissioners that think there might be a place for wind turbines in Albemarle County.  But, he did not think that it has to be on the ridge line or on the Entrance Corridor. He asked staff to also take a look at solar power, which is the question that he felt needs to be addressed. 

 

Ms. Porterfield said that if they are going to draft ordinance language for wind turbines that it really needs to have specifics in it.  The Rockingham County ordinance has all kinds of specifics. She really believes that is what they have to do.  There have to be reasonable heights with the ability to get a higher limit if you come in and explain why it has to be.  One would need to have a minimum number of acres. One would have to be so far from neighboring properties.  There has to be a sound limit because these could be quite noisy.  What happens if a turbine becomes derelict? What should be done with them such as how quickly do they have to be taken down.  If they don’t come down, what is the county’s alternative.  They should not be able to be climbed so possibly after 12’ in height there are no ladders. She thought that was the biggest difference in what was being suggested. She was not against turbines.  She remembered Mr. Edgerton’s comment that he had been watering his cattle by solar energy.   She thought that they need to make sure that there are teeth in the ordinance language.

 

 

Mr. Edgerton said that he was very pleased with the staff’s enthusiastic staff report.  He attended the seminar at James Madison University.  He came away discouraged by the economic potential.  Right now if someone wanted to put up one of the smallest packages someone would be looking at about $20,000.  That is what they heard pretty clearly at that seminar.  So he felt that the requests were not going to overwhelm them.  As far as the benefit to the community he wanted to respond to Mr. Loach’s comment. They are right on the edge of seeing a change in attitudes nationally on how energy is produced and the impacts of that production on the community. As a community they need to figure out a way to put some teeth in it to make sure that they are responsible to the neighbors.  He really hoped that they could think about the impacts.   The more people that are able to generate energy using the sun, wind and water the less power plants have to be built and the less impact on the global climate.  He noted that Mr. Morris made some good points about the location. He would like to find a way to pursue this without it becoming too onerous. 

 

Mr. Loach asked how they are going to resolve the difference between what they have been doing for cell towers and what they are not going to be doing for wind turbines.  He remembered the first cell tower arguments they had in the county where the towers were going to be 200’.  They were told not to worry because they would look like a Loblolly Pine.  He remembered those debates.  It gets back to what Ms. Porterfield said.

 

Mr. Morris said that it was clear that they would have to have clearly defined requirements.  He invited public comment.

 

Morgan Butler, representing the Southern Environmental Law Center, thanked staff for looking into this issue.  He offered some preliminary thoughts and questions.  One question concerns the prohibition that would prohibit selling back energy to make sure that they don’t actually facilitate or allow for commercial wind facilities. He wondered if there was any potential problem with how that might overlap with the state’s regulations.  It is complicated.  But, he understands that if one put a wind turbine on their property and generates an excess of electricity one would be able to enter into contracts with power companies and sell that power back.  He wondered if the two present any problems with any inherent incapability.  Secondly, he wanted to make one comment about the co-locating of wind turbines with cell towers.  He thought that it is a real threat, which staff has identified, which they certainly should try to avoid.  He wondered if they should go so far as not to allow a waiver in that particular situation to avoid cell tower companies to get waivers to avoid the height restrictions applied to cell towers and to take the more lenient one applied to wind turbines.  In the supplemental regulations he wondered if that provision could be differentiated from the others.  He felt that the 200’ seemed very high.  He did not want to establish an incentive for people to go out and clear cut their property.  This is one issue that should be looked into further.  He noted that cell tower companies could possibly get into the business of wind turbines with the potential of putting cell antenna on it to get the more liberal height.

 

Jeff Werner, representative for Piedmont Environmental Council, voiced concerns about wind turbines.  He asked the Commission to consider the options in future work sessions.    

 

Mr. Morris closed the hearing to bring the matter back before the Planning Commission.

 

Mr. Graham clarified that the net metering was looked at on an annual basis that there would be no net production of electricity.  Part of the reason staff had included that was to recognize that they were not trying to limit the number of facilities anybody could build on their property.  So by trying to define it as an accessory to the primary use they were effectively limiting the number of these things and making sure that they were not inadvertently creating a utility wind farm. 

 

Mr. Loach noted that he worried about the unintended consequences of allowing wind turbines.  On one hand they are trying to minimize the requirements for experimental purposes to reduce the greenhouse effect and also what to do with cell towers.   

 

The Commission discussed the proposal and commented to the questions posed by staff, as follows. 

 

Question 1 – Is the Planning Commission comfortable with the approach outlined by staff in the executive summary?  Does the recommended approach appropriately balance the interest in the County in promoting wind energy with other County values?  Are Supplemental Regulations an appropriate way of establishing conditions for wind turbines?

 

The Planning Commission was concerned that this approach is not providing enough limits on how the wind turbines could be established.  The Commission suggested that staff start by obtaining feedback from Rockingham County and the Farm Bureau.  They were concerned about unintended consequences and valued opinion on how people investing in such facilities think it would work.

.

Question 2 – Should wind turbines be allowed within the Entrance Corridor or restricted to great distances from the Entrance Corridor? 

The Planning Commission preferred not to have the Entrance Corridor be a natural prohibitor of wind turbines.  It was suggested that wind turbines be setback a reasonable distance and not be right on the edge.  

 

Question 3 – Should wind turbines be limited within the Mountain Overlay District? 

 

The Planning Commission did not want wind turbines to be sky-lighted, which would keep them off the ridges.  They did not want to encourage trees to be cut down.

 

Question 4 – Should personal wireless antenna be allowed to collocate on wind turbines?

 

The Planning Commission suggested allowing collocation as Tier 1 facilities as long as there are restrictions to ensure that the wind turbines otherwise are  accessory to the primary use on the property.  

 

Question 5 – Are there other issues for the Planning Commission?

 

The Planning Commission asked staff to use the Rockingham County ordinance as a framework. 

 

In summary, the Commission requested staff to obtain comment from the Farm Bureau and Rockingham County and proceed to draft a resolution of intent to bring back for review on the consent agenda.  No formal action was taken.

 

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