Council sends wind turbine ordinance back to planning commission

Published 6:57 am Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Many residents of Oak Park Village don’t want to see — or hear — them in their backyards.

Other citizens want them because they could put Austin ahead of the renewable energy game.

Yes, wind turbines have been a hotly discussed topic lately, and they certainly were again Monday night.

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After tabling a proposed ordinance last month, city council met with the city planning commission to discuss a law that would allow the structures in industrial and commercial districts — not residential neighborhoods — assuming a number of specified conditions were met.

Despite the caveat keeping them from neighborhoods, some citizens are concerned about turbines popping up in adjacent industrial and commercial zones.

The residents of Oak Park Village are near Super Fresh Produce, where co-owner Jim Stiles wants to put a turbine up on his property.

Sharon Wagner said her property line is only about 60 feet from where the turbine could go, and she didn’t want a tower so close.

Others backed up Wagner Monday and, in fact, the Oak Park Village board of directors previously sent a letter to the city outlining several concerns. These included drops in property values and decreased aesthetics.

Stiles wasn’t present Monday, but Steve Vietor, an instructor at Riverland Community College specializing in electrical education, spoke on his behalf and promoted the energy source.

Vietor said smaller wind turbines, like the one Stiles is proposing, are going to be more and more common in coming years, and they could provide a number of great opportunities.

Marv Repinski, a retired area pastor, also came to support wind turbines.

“We’re in a new age,” he said. “It’s about being on the right side of doing something about energy.”

Still, it won’t be until at least next month that the proposed ordinance could become reality.

That’s because council sent the draft back to the planning commission — which doesn’t meet again until January — for more work.

There is still some disagreement over whether wind turbines should be allowed in residential areas — some said they could be great educational tools near schools — and over what kind of setbacks the turbines should have from other structures and property lines.

In the meantime, the city extended a moratorium on wind turbine construction in Austin as the ordinance develops. The moratorium now runs through Feb. 7.

When the draft does come back in front of council, Jeff Austin, a First Ward councilman, said he wants to see something that is not overly restrictive.

“I’d like to see us be pro-active,” he said. “Id like to think we’re forward thinking in Austin.”