Highland County Planning Commission:

Review of Highland New Wind project under State Code Sec. 15.2-2232
18-19 April 2006

Last Update: 8 May 2006

Another Planning Commission review

We thought we would have a little break now that the SCC hearings are over but think again. The Planning Commission must once more review the HNWD project to determine if it is “substantially in accord” with the Comprehensive Plan, called a 2232 review, based on the section of the state code that requires it. The Commission has set a public hearing on the matter for 18 April at 7:30 in the courthouse. A staff report to the Commission has been reviewed by counsel and is now available. Attachment A, referred to in this document, is the HNWD application for this hearing. Page 3 of the application refers to the Supervisors’ resolution of approval. (The legend on the right side of the map on page 5 of the applicatiion was illegible on the copy I received. Attachment B consists of photos of the site taken by Jim Whitelaw.) Commission Chair Jim Cobb stated emphatically that all testimony at the hearing must address the narrow issue of compliance with the Comp Plan and that he will rule out of order any statements that stray from this topic. He will demand that each speaker address his comments to specific sections of the Plan and cite the page number and paragraph for each comment.

We have another approximate site map for the HNWD proposal on Allegheny Mountain. Page one of this document describes the location and the map itself is on page two. This map is in color and is somewhat easier to read than those accompanying the application but it includes some turbine sites that are not a part of the current proposal. [253 kb]

The current Comprehensive Plan is available at the Highland County Library. The introductory section, pages 5-7, is the only part I am aware of that is available on line. These pages list some very important Strategic Questions that are relevant to the 2232 review.

When the supervisors approved the HNWD project last summer, two resolutions were prepared and vetted by counsel. The resolution of denial lists several references to the Comp Plan as reasons why the application should be denied; however, this resolution was not adopted by the supervisors. The resolution of approval, which was adopted, lists three specific references to the Comp Plan as to why the proposal is in compliance.

For more detailed coverage of the upcoming hearing please refer to the report in The Recorder.

Public Hearing on 2232 Review of the HNWD Project

The Highland County Planning Commission held a public hearing on 18 April 2006 at 7:30 in the courthouse to receive input toward its decision as to whether the HNWD project is “substantially in accord” with the Comprehensive Plan. The hearing was run under the rules adopted by the Commission, as well as the Board of Supervisors, which limits each person’s testimony to three minutes. Chair Jim Cobb enforced this limit with relish, cutting off speakers in mid-sentence and without warning when their time was up. He also cut off speakers who strayed, in his opinion, from the very narrow topic of compliance with the Plan. This made for an unnecessarily confrontational atmosphere. Both Robin Sullenberger and Jerry Rexrode, when chairing hearings for the Supervisors, cultivated a much more congenial atmosphere by warning speakers when their time was up and allowing them to complete their thoughts. They kept the hearings moving along without setting everyone on edge.

The planners wait for the hearing to open. Melissa Dowd, standing, members Harry Sponaugle and Tony Stinnett, Chair Jim Cobb, member Doug Gutshall, Building and Zoning staff Aaron Marshall and Jim Whitelaw. I was surprised at the absence of member Lisa Kodger from such an important hearing. I later learned that she had resigned. The Board of Supervisors is expected to name a replacement in May.

Cobb, along with Counsel Melissa Dowd, opened the hearing by going over the ground rules and the purpose of the review. Jim Whitelaw read the staff report. Lisa Hawkins, representing HNWD, presented their version of the facts. She stated that the turbines would not be visible from the major tourist destinations of Monterey and McDowell, that the section of US 250 adjacent to the project has the lowest traffic density of any part of 250, that turbine noise would easily meet applicable standards, and [citing a generally discredited study] that property values were likely to rise faster within the viewshed than outside of it. David Smith followed as the only citizen to speak favorably of the project.

David Bailey, attorney for a group of Highland citizens led off the opposition by noting that the project must be in factual agreement with the Plan. Various goals and recommendations conflict with each other and are open to interpretation. To pass this review the project must be in accord without room for interpretation. He also noted that the Utilities section of the Plan was self-implementing, meaning that it went into effect when the Plan was adopted. Other sections must be generally adhered to but do not have the force of law. The Land Use element is also important. Since wind turbines are not mentioned in the Utilities section or in the Land Use section [or anywhere in the Plan for that matter] they cannot, by definition, be in accord.

The audience listens intently as David Bailey addresses the Planning Commission and staff, below.

Thirteen citizens then spoke, pointing out all of the many ways that wind turbines do not meet the goals of the Comprehensive Plan. I made an abbreviated oral statement and distributed my detailed analysis and my analysis of the staff report to the members of the Commission. These reports cover most of issues stated by others. Following are some of the comments different from mine.

Sandy Hevener noted that a wind “farm” in an agricultural zone is much like a turkey “house” in a residential zone, which is an apt comparison. Larry Held and Betty Mitchell, among others, spoke of the intent of the framers of this Plan, noting that wind turbines were simply not envisioned when it was developed. Carol Bandy pointed to over 30 references to scenic, rural, historic, and cultural values in the Plan, feeling that these values are the unifying force of the Plan taken as a whole. Debora Ellington and Carolyn Pohowsky pointed to local tourism and the retail trades that support it as suffering from a misplaced industrial facility. I’m sure other matters were discussed but my notes are incomplete. If anyone who spoke can provide me with a digital copy his/her remarks I will be pleased to post them.

The Planning Commission reconvened at 7:30 on 19 April to vote. They opened the meeting and immediately went into closed session to discuss legal matters. When they returned to open session, each made a statement and then voted 3 to 1 that the project was substantially in accord with the plan. Tony Stinnett cast the lone dissenting vote. He said that various sections of the Plan are in conflict but that its overall theme is to protect the rural character of Highland County. The other members focused on the definition of “substantially,” seeming to conclude that it means “somewhat.”

Report to the Supervisors from the Planning Commission listing 13 sections supposedly in accord.

For more detailed coverage of these meetings please refer to the report in The Recorder.