OCEAN CITY — After a years-long effort to obtain the necessary state and federal approvals and a favorable recommendation from the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, a downtown property owner last week was denied an opportunity to erect a private wind turbine on his bayfront property by the City Council.
For the last few years, Jim Motsko has been working to secure the necessary permits and approvals to put up a 39-foot tall wind turbine on his bayfront property on 6th Street. He had to secure approvals from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) because of the proposed wind turbine’s proximity to the bay and the navigation channels.
The City Council amended the town code to allow wind turbines as a conditional use in certain R-2 residential areas with stringent safeguards in place in terms of height and required setbacks from adjacent properties. Motsko also got little pushback from neighboring properties, save for a few concerns about aesthetics, potential noise and impacts on bay views. Finally, after a public hearing late last year, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to send a favorable recommendation to the City Council for final approval.
Having crossed those hurdles, it appeared final approval from the City Council would be a slam dunk heading into last Thursday’s Council meeting. In the end, however, the council voted 3-2 to approve the requested conditional use for the wind turbine, but the measure failed because four votes were needed and with two council members absent, Motsko came up just one vote short for the approval.
Councilmembers Lloyd Martin, Dennis Dare and Doug Cymek voted to approve the wind turbine, while Tony DeLuca and Wayne Hartman voted against the measure. Council members Mary Knight and Matt James were absent. While he fell just one vote short, the issue is not entirely dead. Motsko could bring the request back for a vote before the full council if four members of the council are willing to revisit the matter. Presuming DeLuca and Hartman would not change their votes, Motsko would need Knight or James to support the measure to gain approval.
DeLuca said he did not support the measure for a variety of reasons.
“It sounds like a lot to maintain and regulate and I don’t support it at this time,” he said. “I think there is a problem with the sound, problems with migratory birds, problems with aesthetics and problems with the perception, and perception is reality. I support the integrity of the neighborhood.”
The issue with potential noise was a recurring theme during the discussion. Some on the council pointed to another approved wind turbine on the Boardwalk at 15th Street. The turbine did run for a time, but has since been derailed by a problem with the electric connection. Mayor Rick Meehan said while the turbine was active, he never noticed any problems with the noise.
“I was up there a lot when it was spinning and I didn’t hear any noise,” he said. “The problem was with the electrical connection and not with the turbine itself.”
Meehan said noise coming from boats and other activity on the bay in the area of 6th Street would outweigh any noise created by the wind turbine.
“Mr. Motsko has worked for a number of years to bring the right product,” he said. “It’s right on the bay front and the ambient noise from the bay will far exceed any noise from the wind turbine.”
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith said the amended code allowing the conditional use was thorough in terms of setbacks, heights and decibel levels, and Motsko’s proposed wind turbine had met all of the conditions.
“There are at least 14 conditions in the code as a conditional use,” he said. “There are many safeguards in place. All those things go with the approval.”
Smith said there was little to no opposition to the proposed turbine during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing on the project in December, including a new condominium project.
“The new condo was sent a notice,” he said. “They could have opposed if they wanted.”
Some on the council voiced concern about the precedent the proposed wind turbine might set. Smith said there were few areas in town that met the stringent requirements, and Martin said the code amendment was written to prevent the proliferation of wind turbines all over the resort.
“We’ve gone back and forth on this and beat it up pretty good,” he said. “We worked on it very hard to make sure it wouldn’t pop up just anywhere.”
The council voted 3-2 to approve the measure, but the request failed because it needed four votes. Meehan voiced some displeasure with the vote, suggesting if the proposed bayfront 6th Street location did not meet approval, then few if any would.
“I think this is such a good location,” he said. “If you’re not going to grant this, you might as well get rid of the ordinance. If you don’t approve this here, where would you approve it?”
Meehan pointed to the stringent approval process Motsko, a local Realtor whose founded and operates the White Marlin Open, went through just to get it before a vote by the council.
“If you don’t want windmills, we need to take a look at the ordinance,” he said. “I don’t want to put somebody through this again. I don’t think there is another spot as conducive for this.”
The council could revisit the issue, but four members of the council will need to support bringing the matter back before the full council. At this time, it’s unclear if the number is there to have the seven-member council reconsider the matter at a future meeting.