South Portland City Council OKs Wainwright wind test
SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Wednesday night approved a zoning amendment to allow a wind test tower at Wainwright Farms, the first step toward a wind turbine.
The council also narrowly approved an agreement to allow a private developer to use public land for a storm-water system, an arrangement that allows the developer to build an additional house on a nonconforming lot.
City Manager Jim Gailey said that now that the zoning has been changed, the Energy and Recycling Committee will move forward with an application for free wind-testing equipment for Efficiency Maine, the conservation arm of the state Public Utilities Commission. If approved, the city would receive a tower and meters for one to two years to collect wind data and have the results analyzed by experts at the University of Maine.
"We're doing this one step at a time and in a phased approach," Gailey said. "If the (testing) project is a success, we'd have to come back to request a wind turbine."
Councilor Tom Coward wondered whether a wind tower would comply with the strict set of deed restrictions for the sprawling complex, which can only be used for recreational purposes.
Gailey said the wind test has the blessing of the former landowner, who previously sued the city for an alleged misuse of the property. A turbine could be installed if the power generated is used at the facility, which is expected to grow in the coming years and add lights for nighttime events.
The zoning change allows wind meters up to 120 feet tall to be erected in the non-residential industrial zone, provided there is a setback of twice the tower height from the nearest property line. Towers would have to be 200 feet from any residential zone. Approved equipment includes anemometers, data recorders, solar panels and wildlife-related equipment like bird diverts and entanglement protectors.
Councilor Maxine Beecher, who lives on outer Highland Avenue and represents the district, said she supports the test because of the potential to ease the property tax burden on residents.
"The wind, she does blow out there," Beecher said. "This tower isn't going to disturb anyone."
Mayor Tom Blake said the wind test, and possibly a wind turbine, would help the city meet its obligations to reduce its carbon footprint through a renewable energy source.
"This is a major step," he said.
Private developer, public lands
In other business, the council voted 4-2 with Councilor Jim Soule absent to approve an agreement to allow a developer Dan LaBrie to use the city's right of way on Cumberland Road to meet new storm-water requirements instituted this spring by the city.
LaBrie's proposal to build six houses on nonconforming lots has already received Planning Board approval. The storm-water system would include grassy swales between the houses to channel the storm water into a ditch running along Cumberland Road. Each homeowner would be responsible for maintaining the swale by mowing it and removing debris.
Since part of that swale is in the city's right of way, city attorney Sally Daggett said the city had to sign an agreement with Labrie absolving the city of any liability if a homeowner is injured while working in the right of way.
Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said Labrie designed the storm-water system to meet the city's requirements, including paying the ctiy's $2,500 legal bill. It is the first proposal of its kind in the city, he said.
"He was the guinea pig," Haeuser said. "He's very far along and has spent a ton of money."
Councilors discussed the proposal for nearly an hour, with Councilors Linda Boudreau, Patti Smith and Jim Hughes ultimately opposing the plan.
Hughes said the council shouldn't feel obligated to approve the agreement, because it would set a bad precedent for future development. He also said the agreement is contrary to other conservation efforts underway.
"We shouldn't have considered (the city right of way) an option," he said. "The city took the wrong position."