Wind turbine ordinance on hold for now

Published 7:17 am Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The wind turbine ordinance issue has been discussed, debated and dissected by Austin officials for nearly a year.

So what difference does a few more weeks make?

With a proposed law that would allow the structures to be built throughout the city — with conditions — up for a vote Monday night, City Council split evenly. Because of the tie vote, the issue is likely headed to a council work session in two weeks for more discussion and then, possibly, back to the whole council in early June.

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The tie vote equated to three in favor — council members Jeff Austin, Dick Pacholl and Janet Anderson — and three opposed — Brian McAlister, Steve King and Marian Clennon. Of course, council is designed with seven members, but councilman John Martin was absent Monday. City administrator Jim Hurm said after the meeting that he hadn’t received notice from Martin regarding the absence.

Council also couldn’t turn to a proposed tie-breaking procedure — having the mayor vote. The city charter commission has discussed giving the mayor that power, but council failed to pass charter changes, and the issue of mayoral voting privileges seems destined for a public vote during November’s election.

Therefore, the wait on wind turbines continues.

But despite Monday’s stalemate, there were some passionate pleas made for the proposed ordinance, which would allow turbines in all city zones, though all projects would require individual permitting and would be subject to a list of restrictions. The restrictions would include a limit on height — 75 feet in residential areas — and blade size, as well as a stipulation that a tower be set back from a property line at a minimum distance of 1.1 times a tower’s height.

The argument for the law was articulated by, among others, Marv Repinski, the retired Austin pastor. Repinski, citing the recent oil spill in the Gulf Coast area, said it is apparent that clean energy, like that generated by wind towers, is needed now.

“For the city, it’s the way to go for the future,” he said. “It’s just a small smidgen of where we need to go as a nation.”

Pacholl echoed similar sentiments in his argument for wind turbines.

“I think we have to look, basically, into the future,” the councilman said.

But the argument against — largely centered around possible detrimental effects the towers could bring to residential areas — was also laid out.

Councilman McAlister said citizens opposed to the ordinance wouldn’t go away, and would simply be agitated more if and when construction begins.

“I think allowing them in residential areas is a bad idea,” he said. “You can be quite sure if one does pop up, (council) is going to hear about it.”

McAlister was channeling the concern of a handful of residents from Oak Park Village, where the idea of neighboring business owner Jim Stiles of Super Fresh Produce putting up a tower has been widely criticized. The group has stated that turbines would ruin aesthetics, property values and quality of life in their area.

“This looks like it’s going to go (forward) regardless of what we think,” resident Bob Clark said at a previous meeting. “There are people out there upset.”