Aquinnah bylaw could require renewable energy use in houses
Wind generators and solar panels could become more common fixtures on the Aquinnah landscape if voters approve a bylaw that gives the town the authority to require builders to install alternative sources of energy in houses over a certain size.
The future direction of town telecommunications and the way school funding is decided are also expected to be topics of discussion when town voters gather for a special town meeting Tuesday at 7 pm in the Aquinnah Town Hall.
Topping the seven-article special town meeting warrant is an article designed "to mitigate the environmental impact of residential structures having more than 2,000 square feet within their weather walls at ground level."
Under the town-wide designation as a district of critical planning concern, houses over 2,000 square feet require a special permit.
If approved by two-thirds of the voters present, the bylaw change would allow the planning board plan review committee to require the installation of a renewable energy source of more than 2,500 kilowatts an hour per year, "such as solar or wind-powered generators, or geothermal systems," when issuing a special permit.
Selectman Jim Newman, architect of the proposal, said that he decided to take action based on his firm conviction about the need to conserve fossil fuels. He said voluntary efforts are not enough. "We just need to move on it," he said. "I felt that people are not going to do it on their own and selectmen need to be agents of change."
Mr. Newman said it is reasonable to ask why the builders of houses of any size should not be asked to use alternative sources of energy. He said that the 2,000-square-foot threshold is related to the need for a special permit but could always be amended.
Mr. Newman said the bylaw does not infringe on private property rights. He said it is not unlike bylaws and building codes that dictate trim color or prohibit the removal of trees without a special permit.
In several Island towns, proposed changes to town bylaws are customarily reserved for action during the annual town meeting to take advantage of strong voter attendance. Mr. Newman said he did not want to wait until May.
"I wanted to get it through, I think it is important enough," said Mr. Newman. "I think it is important Island-wide and hopefully other towns will follow suit. I think the country should follow suit."
Mr. Newman is not just talking about alternative sources of energy. He said he installed solar panels on his own house.
Camille Rose, selectman and chairman of the planning board, stressed that the bylaw would not mandate that alternative sources of energy be used but would allow the planning board to require that they be used when it is appropriate.
"I think it is a step all the towns need to take," Ms. Rose said. She added that a great deal of negotiating takes place when issuing a special permit and this would become part of that process.
Ms. Rose said the town would hold a public hearing this evening to discuss the bylaw proposal that is similar to existing bylaws in other conservation-minded communities. As an example, she said that Aspen, Colorado provides strict guidelines on building.
The potentially divisive issue of school funding will also come before voters when they are asked if the town should require the use of the Department of Education's wealth-based apportionment formula when determining the assessments for the member towns in regional school districts.
As compared to the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) formula, under the DOE formula, Aquinnah's assessment would drop by approximately $93,724, Chilmark's assessment would increase by $24,575 and West Tisbury's would go up by $69,149.
The current UIRSD formula is based on enrollment, dividing the total number of students enrolled by town by the total district enrollment.
Voters will also be asked to endorse town efforts to promote the development of distributed antenna system for providing cell phone service by working with West Tisbury and Chilmark. Article 6 asks voters to authorize the board of selectmen to enter into a relationship with nearby towns to promote the development of a fiber optic network to support commercial wireless and public safety communications and to form a regional telecommunications enterprise district.
Last week selectmen voted to accept an agreement intended to end lawsuits filed by Cingular Wireless in state and federal court against the town. The agreement paves the way for Cingular to place three wireless antennas inside a 48-foot-high rebuilt replica of the existing steeple on the Community Baptist Church of Gay Head.
A key element of the agreement is the town's ongoing effort to develop a distributed antenna system (DAS), which uses fiber optic cable and a network of short antennas, which most often are placed on telephone poles in strategic locations, to provide a wireless signal. The town's interest in the system has attracted the attention of Chilmark and West Tisbury officials, opening up the possibility of a regional DAS system.
Voters will also be asked to take $22,000 from the stabilization fund for the replacement of asphalt shingles on the Fire Station roof and Town Hall roof. Ms. Rose said roof repairs would include the installation of solar panels on the Fire Station.
One article not on the special town meeting warrant is the "Intergovernmental agreement on cooperative land use and planning between the Wampanoag Indian tribe and the town of Aquinnah " that was tabled by voters on the strength of opposition by tribal members at a special town meeting on Aug. 22.
The document was an outgrowth of a long legal battle over the limits of tribal sovereignty and was intended to help avoid future lawsuits and foster tribal-town cooperation and joint land use planning.
In the aftermath of the Aug. 22 vote, tribal leaders said that more time was needed to allow tribal members to fully understand its language and ramifications.
Ms. Rose said there has been no subsequent discussion between the town and the tribe about the agreement.