Historic District Committee Rejects College Wind Turbine
By: James Kinsella
The Barnstable Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee voted 3-1 Wednesday against granting a certificate of appropriateness to a proposed 600-kilowatt wind turbine at Cape Cod Community College.
Following the vote, Bruce Gilmore, the attorney representing the college and the state Division of Capital Asset Management, which is responsible for major public building construction for the state, said his clients would appeal the committee’s decision to the regional Old King’s Highway committee.
The committee’s decision followed about an hour of public testimony. Proponents touted the economic and educational benefits of the alternative energy offered by the turbine. Opponents decried the intrusive nature of a large modern turbine in a district where historic preservation is paramount.
The college had proposed erecting a 164-foot turbine tower, with a rotor blade that would reach a height of 242 feet at its tip, as well as building an access road.
The $4 million project was slated to be built near the western edge of college land near the intersection of routes 132 and 6A in West Barnstable.
College officials said, the turbine would save $168,000 in energy costs through generating electricity, and provide a “living laboratory” for the college’s renewable energy curriculum.
But members of the historic district committee, which took up the issue Wednesday evening at the West Barnstable Community Building, said the wind turbine would not be appropriate for the district.
“I am opposed to the wind turbine,” said acting chairman Patricia Anderson.
In a historic district, Ms. Anderson said, there are expectations that need to be met. “I can’t build a California redwood, but neither can anyone else,” she said.
Ms. Anderson further made reference to a 1980s case where a judge upheld the denial of a wind turbine in a historic district, writing that just a few incongruous elements are enough to defeat the purpose of such a district.
Another member, Elizabeth Nilsson, also spoke against the proposed turbine.
“My job, on this committee, is to pass on the appropriateness of buildings and structures,” Ms. Nilsson said. She said she found the turbine to be inappropriate.
A third member, George Jessop, would have preferred before casting his vote to wait for interviews to be conducted in a Buzzards Bay neighborhood about what it is like to live close to a nearby operating wind turbine at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
But Jackie Etsten, a planner in the town’s growth management department who was advising the committee, reminded him that he needed to address the specific proposal before the committee.
Another committee member, Carrie Bearse, said the experience of living near a turbine was not an esthetic, and hence outside the committee’s purview.
Ms. Bearse was the sole member of the committee to speak in favor of the turbine.
“I do not feel the turbine would have a detrimental effect,” in part because the structure would be built on a campus already composed of modern buildings.
While she and other residents live in a historic district, she said, it is not a static district. “I feel this application is appropriate,” she said.
On the vote, Ms. Bearse cast the sole vote in favor of the application. Ms. Anderson, Ms. Nilsson and Mr. Jessop voted no.
Following the vote, Mr. Gilmore said he had expected the town committee to reject the proposal.
“Absolutely we’ll appeal the decision,” he said. “We think it was wrong.”
He said he and his clients were disappointed by the decision, which he said was a well-thought-out proposal that would benefit the community and the college.
The historic committee had last addressed the turbine application at its December 9 meeting, but continued the matter to Wednesday, in part to give the college time to put up a balloon to give district residents an idea of the height of the turbine and its rotor.
Wednesday’s vote is the latest obstacle for the turbine project, which dates back about five years.
College officials initially had proposed an even larger turbine at the eastern edge of the campus, near the Mid-Cape Highway. That plan, however, was opposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which said the turbine would stand inside an emergency flyway for the Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis.
The college then shifted the turbine’s proposed location to the western edge of the campus, and downsized its proposed size.
In its planning for the project, the college did not expect to come before the historic district committee, seeing the turbine exempt from the committee’s purview as a state project.
But when the committee learned in September that the college had started work on the project, they voted to have the town building commissioner issue an immediate stop-work order. The commissioner issued the order that month.
The college subsequently filed an application with the committee, seeking a certificate of appropriateness for the turbine.
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