Council approves turbine ordinance

Published 7:27 am Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Austin citizens will now be able to construct wind turbines in the city, provided they don’t go up in residential areas.

This is due to an ordinance passed by City Council Monday, ending nearly a year of discussion and debate on the issue. The new law permits turbine construction in industrial and commercial districts in Austin, as well as in school zones.

However, a host of restrictions will regulate the city’s newest industry. First and foremost, every new turbine project will require a conditional-use permit, which is granted — or not granted — by the city’s planning commission. Turbines will all be subject to height limits, depending on the zone they’re built in, and all the structures must be at least 1.1 times their height away from property lines — meaning smaller lots won’t be able to have massive towers.

The new law represents the last in long line of updated drafts that went before council. Ultimately, the majority of council felt that the latest ordinance represented a good compromise between people who wanted to bring the green industry into town and those who didn’t want them in their backyards — namely, a group of citizens at Oak Park Village who initially protested the idea because Jim Stiles, owner of the nearby Super Fresh Produce, wanted to install a turbine on his property.

Still, not everyone was happy Monday night. Councilwoman Marian Clennon voted against the ordinance for the second time in as many weeks, citing a lack of language that addresses roof-mounted turbines.

Clennon said such structures could be viable in the city, but added that the current ordinance would cut that avenue off.

“More research needs to be done on what is realistic for the city of Austin,” the councilwoman said.

Councilman John Martin also voted against the ordinance Monday. He said he wasn’t happy with how the law read, and he said it’d be smarter to revise it now then to pass it and to try to revise it later.

“I don’t think it’d be wise to set it the way it is written now,” he said.

However, the other five council members disagreed, though some did acknowledge that it may not be a perfect ordinance. Jeff Austin for one said he had several issues with the ordinance, but noted that he really wanted to get it passed, particularly because a city moratorium on wind turbine construction is ending soon — meaning there would be no regulations or restrictions on what kind of towers went up if no ordinance was passed.

Councilwoman Janet Anderson echoed Austin.

“It’s really imperative that we put this ordinance in place,” she said. “We can come back and revisit it as technology evolves.”