Wind Turbines Law Tweaking Eyed

OCEAN CITY – After the first reading of an ordinance that would allow wind turbines to be placed on Ocean City properties on Monday night, the City Council decided that it should read a little differently.

Some members of the council were hesitant to rubberstamp a portion of the ordinance that would allow special exceptions to the proposed setback guidelines in R-1 and mobile home districts in Ocean City.

“I want to walk before we run with this, and I’m all for these turbines, but I’m telling you, as soon as the first one of these goes up, the neighbors on either side are going to go crazy,” said Councilman Jim Hall.

Hall hoped to make any request for exception to the required 1.1 times the total height of the turbine setback to come directly through the Mayor and City Council.

“It will be like a 50-foot tower with a spinning rotor on it, and this is going to happen, and as much as I love the Board of Zoning Appeals, they are just who can argue better. Sending the issue to the Board of Zoning Appeals is just throwing the dice. If you can’t meet the setback, you shouldn’t have it,” he said.

Councilwoman Mary Knight was concerned about the impact turbine installations would have on neighboring properties.

“Neighbors should have the right to say no thank you to this,” said Knight.

Councilwoman Margaret Pillas agreed with Knight and thought the council should move slowly.

“I love wind turbines and I think property owners should have the right to consider alternative energy sources, but we have to do it right, and do it properly for the people that live in close proximity,” said Pillas.

The council voted unanimously (with Joe Hall absent) to allow the ordinance to move to second reading, but removed the section that would allow variances or special exceptions.

According to City Planner Jesse Houston, “variance procedure does include a public hearing in which all neighbors in R-1 districts would be notified, and the Board of Zoning Appeals can take the testimony from the public hearing into consideration when making their decision, so the neighbor does have a say in that case.”

The council, on the other hand, felt more comfortable dealing with this new issue.

“Why don’t we have this as a safeguard have this come to (Mayor and City Council)? You can’t put in a jetski or sailboat rental without it coming to us. I’d like to see the first few of these appeals, and let’s see what the objections are and who has them. I would feel much better if we just took out the Board of Zoning Appeals,” said Jim Hall.

What this all means, is that if a property owner can’t meet the required setback then there would be no way to get a special exception. Councilman Doug Cymek pointed out that freestanding turbines would be hard to achieve the setback in town.

“It’s going to be very difficult to get a vertical mass type of installation on the lots in Ocean City, and more than likely you will see mostly roof top units,” he said.

Councilman Lloyd Martin, despite seeing a need for variances, amended his original motion to remove the debated section because he wanted to see the wind turbines become a reality in Ocean City.

“My fear is that we make this so restricting that it’s never going to happen,” said Martin.

City Solicitor Guy Ayres said his recommendation to the council, if it did in fact wanted to closely monitor which turbines were being put up in town, would be to “change it from a special exception to a conditional use.”