New rules for wind, water projects in O.B.
Oak Bluffs residents will have an opportunity to discuss proposed changes to town bylaws that would regulate wind turbines and would require property owners to apply for a special permit for any construction activity within federally designated flood plain zones.
The town's planning board will hold a public hearing on the proposed changes at 7 pm on Thursday, April 1, at town hall to hear what residents think about two proposed zoning bylaw changes. Voters will act on the proposed bylaws at the annual town meeting on April 13. The bylaw changes require a two-thirds vote to be enacted.
The new proposed wind generating facility bylaw would replace a bylaw formulated more than two decades ago, when wind energy systems were far less complex.
"Really all it took into account was to make sure the things didn't fall onto somebody else's property," said John Bradford, chairman of the planning board.
The new bylaw would update the bylaw to catch up with newer technology, including roof-top wind generators. It would address only wind generators beneath the 200 foot level. The Martha's Vineyard Commission has declared airspace above that level, except for the town of Edgartown, a district of critical planning concern. There is a moratorium on any structures higher than 200 feet while the MVC recommends ways to regulate wind power projects.
Oak Bluffs town officials know of no current wind energy generators operating in the town. The large windmill at the high school is no longer functioning.
The bylaw would make several significant changes, Among them is a requirement that windmills must meet minimum technical standards set by appropriate professional organizations. It would also require that the manufacturer and a qualified engineer certify the safety of the structure.
Also, the wind generator could operate for a limited number of years, before it would have to be inspected and recertified. If it passes inspection, the permit would be extended in five year intervals. The bylaw also provides the town with the authority to force the owner to decommission a wind generating system when it is no longer functional. "It's so we don't have a bunch of wind generators that are abandoned," Mr. Bradford said. "This would have a mechanism so if someone abandoned one, or it wasn't' working correctly, the town could require they take it down."
Also on the town meeting warrant is a proposed bylaw change that would limit development in areas that are prone to flooding. The by-law could have a significant affect on people who own buildings or property within the federally designated flood plain zones.
There are two zones. The first is called the velocity, or "V" zone. It is designated by the federal emergency management agency (FEMA) as the area that could be damaged by high waves or a storm surge. Essentially, it covers the beaches and coastal banks. Under the new bylaw, all building would be banned in the "V" zone. Effectively, it already is, because of state and federal regulations, so this change is likely to have very little affect on local residents.
The second zone is known as the "A" zone, designated by FEMA as the areas susceptible to flooding in a 100-year storm. About 365 Oak Bluffs property owners have some or all of their property within the "A" zone. If the bylaw is approved, any alteration of land or buildings would require a special permit from the zoning board of appeals. In order to get the special permit, the alteration would have to comply with federal, state, and local flood plain building regulations. One common way those regulations come into play is what is known informally as the federal "50-50" rule. If a renovation costs more than 50 percent of the home's assessed value, homeowner must take steps to protect it from flooding. Often that means elevating the structure.
The bylaw would also create a site plan review committee that would be the first stop for anyone seeking a special permit. The committee will advise the property owner which federal, state, and local boards will need to be involved. "Before the permit process gets underway," said town conservation agent Elizabeth Durkee, "the applicant is going to know exactly what they need to do."
The new bylaw was formulated as part of the town's StormSmart Coasts program, funded by a grant from the state. The program helps coastal communities address issues arising from storms, floods, sea level rise, and climate. "We know there are going to be stronger storms, and more of them," said Ms. Durkee.