Council considers zoning change

15 years ago
Staff photo/Kathy McCarty

    A REZONING REQUEST by SAD 1 and Northern Maine Community College was recently discussed by the Planning Board and City Council, with both facilities asking for a zone change from residential to industrial for the purpose of constructing wind turbines at their respective campuses. Here, the proposed areas to be rezoned are highlighted in red. The initial proposal would have rezoned the green areas. The latest recommendation reduced the sections being considered for rezoning to the north of each institution’s property, providing a buffer between any future construction of wind turbines and neighboring homes and businesses. Council has scheduled public hearings on the proposed changes for after the first of the year.



By Kathy McCarty
Staff Writer

    PRESQUE ISLE — Rezoning for the purpose of allowing two educational facilities in the Star City to erect wind turbines has been the topic of discussion in recent weeks by both the City Council and the Planning Board.
    The Council got an update Dec. 2, with Planning and Development Director Ken Arndt providing an overview of the proposed change. Present for the session were: Council Chair Ed Nickerson; Councilors Walt Elish, Calvin Hall, Ron McPherson, Don Gardner and G. Melvin Hovey; and City Manager Tom Stevens.
    “The areas being considered for rezoning are to the north of Northern Maine Community College and the Presque Isle Middle School. What they’ve (NMCC and SAD 1) asked is that the city council conduct public hearings in January and February,” said Arndt. Under the proposal, those parcels — currently designated urban residential zones — would be rezoned to industrial zones to allow for the construction of larger wind turbines.
    The request for public hearings followed the Planning Board’s discussion of Nov. 19, when board members addressed at length what impact the rezoning would have on the neighborhood. Present for the discussion were board members: Bruce Roope, Mike Mathers, Steve Sutter, Brent Anderson, Karl Dampf and Pat Cote. Other officials participating in the discussion included: City Planner Jamie Francomano; Larry Fox, director, SAD 1’s Presque Isle Regional Career and Technology Center; Larry LaPlante, director of finance, NMCC.
    Francomano said the purpose of the proposal was to “make an expansion to the industrial zone to include part or all of the properties owned by SAD 1 and NMCC, where applicants wish to construct large-scale wind turbines.”
    The initial request for rezoning included much larger sections of property owned by NMCC and SAD 1 that raised concern about safety and distance from nearby housing units. The proposal was modified, said Francomano, greatly reducing the area being considered for rezoning to parcels to the north of each facility, away from housing and closer to the industrial zone used by Industrial Park businesses and the city’s Public Works Department. Francomano called the modification “conditional zoning.”
    “We’ve tailored the actual size of the expansion to the appropriate fit,” Francomano told board members. “Conditional zoning allows the Planning Board to recommend to the City Council to allow a rezoning of some but not all (of the property) for special exemptions to the existing zone.”
    Francomano explained that the modified zoning request allowed for a “buffer for the residential zone.”
    LaPlante said, given the dimensions of the area, the parcel NMCC is requesting rezoning for would “certainly do what we need it to do.”
    “The section runs primarily parallel to Skyway St. and would be buffered by our resident area — Penobscot and Washington halls. That’s our primary site,” said LaPlante. “The way it’s developed right now, should take care of the siting of our project.”
    When Sutter asked how many abutters attended an earlier meeting to address concerns, LaPlante said none were present for the meeting, held Nov. 16.
    Fox said the section of property SAD 1 was looking at would be “large enough to place our meter tower and then a wind tower.”
    “The engineer has asked for 600 feet and that’s what it looks like to me. If you would allow partial zoning and conditions, I think it would work,” said Fox.
    Fox and LaPlante indicated the Federal Aviation Administration had been contacted and both properties had met FAA guidelines to construct wind units on the proposed sites.
    “We received a letter of determination from the FAA after the Council passed the wind ordinance. Our tower can go up to a height of 149 feet on that lot. We certainly won’t exceed that height. The UMPI windmill is about 600 kw; the project we’re looking at won’t be greater than 250-300 kw, probably less than half the size of UMPI’s — could be as small as 100 kw,” said Fox.
    LaPlante said NMCC’s tower is only 100 feet — much shorter than the maximum allowed by the FAA.
    Board members then voted to move the matter to City Council, to then schedule public hearings after the first of the year to consider rezoning the two parcels to allow for the construction of wind turbines to be used to provide power to the two educational institutions.
    LaPlante noted that in addition to providing power to NMCC, the turbine would serve as an educational opportunity for students enrolled in the wind technology program now being offered at the college.
    “When we talk wind energy project — we’re one of the few colleges in the Northeast with a wind technology program. We felt it would be beneficial to the college, not just for energy but to use as a classroom, for training and so forth,” said LaPlante.
    Council got its first look at the proposed changes during the Dec. 7 session.
    “On these two proposed windmills, do they meet every criteria proposed in our wind ordinance regarding setback?” asked City Councilor Don Gardner.
    “They exceed our limits — 60 to 100 feet or higher than that. The height has been addressed so they won’t affect the functionality of the airport,” answered Arndt.
    Gardner questioned whether construction of such units would have any adverse effect on residents in the area.
    “That’s what the Planning Board did. What we did as a staff is recommend it (the area to be rezoned) be moved back as far as possible across the street,” to ensure a safe distance existed between any future construction of wind turbines and homes and businesses in the area, said Arndt.
    “I think we’ve protected everyone as best we can,” Arndt said.
    With discussion of the matter concluded, Council approved setting Jan. 4 and Feb. 2 2010 as public hearing dates to consider the proposed zoning amendment.