North Ridgeville wind turbine law will aim to lessen ‘surprises’

Building and Lands Committee members (L-R) Dick Jaenke, Nancy Buescher and chairman Bob Olesen meet to discuss ways to legislate wind turbines. NRP photo – Beth Mlady

North Ridgeville

With a 90-day moratorium on wind turbines already in place, North Ridgeville city officials met last week to begin work on permanent legislation to control how future units are erected.

City Council in June suspended the ability of anyone to construct a wind turbine inside city limits after Emerald Street residents Ronald and Patricia Engelman had one placed on their property. The equipment towers above homes in their neighborhood. No city codes existed that prohibited or controlled such structures, so a permit was issued by the city’s building department to allow its installation.

Building and Lands Committee Chairman Bob Olesen (Ward 4 councilman) held a meeting July 5 in which he asked committee members Nancy Buescher (Ward 1) and Dick Jaenke (Ward 3) what they hoped to accomplish through whatever wind turbine legislation is eventually enacted.

“In my mind … the issue is energy in terms of alternative energy overall,” Jaenke said. “There are other forms of green energy coming down the pike. In today’s market, we don’t know what’s going to be available in the next year or two. Obviously, we have an issue with the turbines. It’s not an easy thing to resolve.”

Citing common guidelines, such as fall zones, setbacks, sound, lighting and signals, Buescher said legislation “doesn’t have to be all that complicated.”

“We have to have basics in place,” she said. “There’s that fall zone area that we can deal with so that we don’t have a lot of these (turbines) on small lots.”

Though Olesen said he understands people with all-electric homes, like the Engelmans, worry about their electric bills (because FirstEnergy decided to eliminate a decades-long discount for those homeowners), he said “it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“We still have those discounts,” he said. “I felt bad for the people who suddenly saw this (wind turbine) put up. I don’t like surprises for residents. When neighbors do things that offend other neighbors, it creates dissension in the neighborhood. I don’t like that. That turbine was built 20 feet from the property line.”

Mayor Dave Gillock, who attended the meeting along with Law Director Andrew Crites, Ward 2 Councilman Dennis Boose and at large councilwomen Bernadine Butkowski and Roseanne Johnson, shared information he received at a recent mayors association meeting. Gregory J. Lestini, of Bricker and Eckler Attorneys at Law, advised the mayors on “green zoning” and posed items they should consider before enacting any laws. Some of those considerations were whether to legislate both wind and solar initiatives; if use of such devices should be allowed in all districts or only in special city districts; and what specific restrictions to include, such as height, setbacks, decibel levels and foundations. Other points to ponder, according to Lestini, were “attractive nuisance” issues, as well as air, light and water rights.

“There’s a whole lot of things, if you really want to write an ordinance, that will keep you busy for quite a while,” Gillock told the committee. “Keep in mind, you’re not doing just residential areas. You’ve got to look at this commercially, too.”

Crites recommended the committee think about making wind turbines a conditional use.

“I would advise that most definitely you make it a freestanding chapter (in the North Ridgeville Codified Ordinances) that’s a conditional use in all districts,” he said, “with a very detailed application that requires site plan review and approval, or denial, by one of our two boards, the BZA (Board of Zoning and Appeals) or Planning. The conditional use aspect sets this up for a much better process. It mandates that there’s a public hearing. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that aesthetically in R-1 (residential zoning), you must use monopole construction only. Don’t have a minimum height there. Just stick with the ratio of 1.1 or 1.5 (to allow for a fall zone) … so how big that wind turbine is, is going to be a function of the lot size. Maybe make it 1.5 from any R-1 lot line.”

Crites also clarified the definition of a conditional use after Gillock indicated he believed it “implies you can add conditions.”

“It’s the other way around,” Crites explained. “(It means) you can have this use on the condition that you meet all these requirements.”

Committee members later acknowledged the need to bring to a future meeting a green energy expert who could explain wind turbine technology and how its energy is processed.

“The fact is, we don’t have the expertise to do this (legislation) properly,” Jaenke said.

Building and Lands Committee members will meet again in coming weeks to further discuss the legislation, even, if necessary, during City Council’s August recess. The current wind turbine moratorium, while in effect for 90 days, can be extended for as long as 270 days, as approved by council June 20.

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