Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An Open Letter the the Roanoke County Planning Commission

Crafting a zoning ordinance amendment to accomodate industrial scale wind turbines, protect public safety and provide for peaceful enjoyment of the lives of the community is NOT an easy task to get your brain around.
Roanoke County Planning Commissioners:
Mr. Gary Jarrel, Chmn.
Mr. David Radford, Vice Chmn.
Ms. Martha Hooker
Mr. Rodney Mc Neil
Mr. Jason Peters

First, after attending your March 1, 2011 public hearing and your March 15, 2011 work session, I would like to express my appreciation to all of you for obviously studying the issues surrounding large and industrial scale wind turbines in much greater depth.

The size of these machines alone is difficult to comprehend without seeing them in person. Relatively few people have had such an experience with the 2.5 MW turbines that are being proposed for a Poor Mountain installation. The only 2.5 MW turbines I know of on the East Coast (if not the entire country) are in Lackawanna, NY. All other Eastern US installations are at least 40% smaller. So, to author an ordinance amendment that tries to accommodate such installations as accepted land use, while protecting the public welfare and providing our citizens with the continued peaceful enjoyment of their lives is no small undertaking.

You are obviously, as a commission, trying to define the design and use standards very carefully with the public welfare foremost in mind. It is not an easy task at all, particularly in our case with mountainous terrain, where our topographic conditions often magnify safety hazards.

Your latest draft revises the property line setback to 400% of the height of the turbine. Surely, you arrived at a “percentage of height” figure, with some height in mind, yet, you have chosen not to describe a maximum height, leaving that decision to the BOS. I am concerned that by using the Special Use Permitting (SUP) process, the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors can modify (more or less restrictive) all of the use and design standards established to protect the public, arbitrarily, on a project by project basis. This allows for circumventing judicial reviews for variances to minimum standards, and thereby subjects public safety to politically influenced decisions.

I understand the SUP process as affording the governing body with the ability to become even more diligent in protecting the public interest on a project by project basis; not as a vehicle to relax minimum standards and thereby grant conveniences to applicants at the jeopardy of the public.

Thanks for listening.

Eldon L Karr