Monday, February 09, 2009

Would you sign a waiver??

The meeting for the planning and zoning commission only has two agenda items on it this month. One of them though deals with the ordinance for SMALL WIND ENERGY SYSTEMS, or those rascally wind turbines that make the news every so often.

Here is a link to the news article that appears today for tomorrow nights meeting.

I thought I'd share some of my thoughts heading into this subject matter.

First off, the purpose of the ordinance should be to promote safety as it concerns the citizens of Kingman. I agree 100% with that notion as a commissioner on the panel. Lesser parts of the ordinance should allow for effective and efficient uses of alternative energy systems that do not infringe on safety concerns.

My main concern as a citizen of Kingman though are my property rights. I see an alternative energy system as a potential benefit to my property. I can get into specifics, but it is best to just leave what I just said alone. My views as a property owner are just as subjective as any one else that owns property and should simply be respected.

Yet other folks desire these alternative energy sources be used because they deem them to be friendly to the environment, or as a means to reduce global warming (it is snowing today BTW Mr. Gore), or just to feel good about whatever it is that an alternative energy source can make a person feel good. Others are fed up with utility rate hikes (completely understand) and, like the current president, feel compelled to fix the air temperature in their home to whatever temperature that makes them feel happy and without guilt that they are killing the planet. Perhaps a wind turbine and/or some solar powered system will allow it to happen and they are willing to take some risks to improve their wants/needs.

The last group that has an interest in alternative energy sources is the providers of products that offer such things. Folks that participate in the free enterprise system that helped make this country so great.

Now for this agenda item, the city has included materials in the work book that I have read and reviewed. The materials included information from other municipalities, counties, and states that have drafted ordinances that deal with small wind energy systems. Some interesting ideas and perhaps some possible solutions may come out of the session tomorrow night.

I am going to discuss in this blog post a possible solution for the city to consider. I will do my best to make it simple, but I don't do simple as well I would like.

Let's go to the well debated yet seemingly confusing issue of setbacks. As mentioned earlier, the main impetus of such an ordinance from the city should be public safety. What we are talking about is what if the tower somehow fell over??

It would suck to be hanging out in your living room watching TV one moment and then in the next find a wind turbine crashing down through your roof. I get that, it is a legitimate concern.

Likewise, if you kept your prize pure bred canine outside, you wouldn't want your neighbors wind turbine crashing down on Sparky's dog house while he slept peacefully. Maybe you don't have a critter, maybe you just don't want anything to disturb your garden or clothes line... fine. As a property owner you have certain rights to quiet enjoyment and security that a wind turbine falling over could compromise.

So simply, make the setbacks equal to the measure of height of the tower multiplied by a factor of 1.5 for any other structure on any other property surrounding the applicants property. So if an applicant wanted a 200 foot tower, it would have to be at least 300 feet away from any other dwelling on any other lot surrounding the applicants property. Now the 200 foot tower example is purposely extreme in this example.

And if surrounding property owners don't want a tower to fall on their prize garden, then perhaps make the setback equal to the measure of height of the tower multiplied by a factor of 1.1 or some other agreed to factor.

I know, I know... adopting this ordinance would eliminate a clear majority of property owners from obtaining a small wind energy system that may want one within the tiny confines of the city limits . We must keep in mind though that the city must do all it can in terms of safety. So if a property owner knew that he/she has enough space on the property according to the ordinance, they just go right on about getting the product or service they desire. No favoritism, no exceptions, no conditional use permits.

So you don't have enough land space on your property for the required radius conditions of the ordinance... are you out of luck?? Not necessarily.

As you know, I'm a big proponent of private property rights and it is from this perspective that I draw conclusions for many of my opinions. So I ask this question... if I wanted a small wind energy system for my property (all of 8,800 square feet) but a 45 foot tower would potentially collapse on either my property, my neighbor to the east, or my neighbor to the north east, or on a public street to the east... who can possibly be affected by the potential collapse?? The answer of course is all of the above, but no one else.

Now if I wanted to put the tower up in the north east part of my backyard, the street to the east is taken out of the equation. Follow me for a second. Now I approach my two very nice neighbors and tell them of my plans to install a small wind energy system and if they were to agree that it wouldn't be a problem to them for me to place the tower in the location I specified, why would anyone else care??

I'm talking about a waiver policy of course. Something that the local ordinance does not have at this time. The following is an example of part of a waiver policy...

As part of the Special Use Permit or Zoning Permit approval process, property owners may waive the setback requirements of Occupied Buildings on both the Subject Property and/or Adjacent Properties by signing a waiver that sets forth the applicable setback provisions and proposed changes. The written waiver shall notify applicable property owners of the setback required by this ordinance, describe how the proposed wind turbine and/or wind energy facility to not be setback as required by this ordinance. Any such waiver shall be signed by all affected property owners and be recorded in the Currituck County Registrat of Deeds Office. The waiver shall describe teh properties benefited and/or burdened, and advise aqll subsequent purchasers of any burdeneed property that waiver of setback shall run with the land and may forever burden the subject property.

Adding this sort of waiver puts the decision back into the hands of the property owners instead of only the governing body. If the safety concerns are those of other property owners, it is those folks that should address the concerns. It also takes care of potential future property owners with the recording of the waivers on the property deed. Disclose, disclose, disclose.

My property does not adhere to the current zoning ordinance because it is not a half-acre or larger. As a property owner, I believe, that I should have every opportunity to improve my property as I desire as long as it does not affect the property rights of my neighbors. If my neighbors agree to the setback waivers I should be able to proceed.

Of course there is no guarantee that your neighbor would play nice and allow you the opportunity to put up a small wind energy system on your property because your neighbor may have a different perception of what is safe and what isn't in terms of a tall tower in the backyard. There are a couple of current city council members that have already stated at a public meeting that they wouldn't want their neighbors to have such monstrosities near their property... and that is their right as property owners. No one would force them to sign waivers (if the neighbor applicant didn't have enough land space to adhere to the ordinance).

I think a waiver policy is a must in order for the overall ordinance to work properly.

If the city settles on a policy where if a tower was to collapse only on the applicants property only, then permits should be issued for proper installment of a small wind energy system.

If your property does not adhere to the city ordinance but you have neighboring property owners that are possibly affected by the placement of the small wind energy system but are willing to grant you notarized recorded authorization for installation, you should be able to obtain the permit needed to move forward.

It seems as fair and equitable as possible. Protecting property rights must be a focus in our community.

I look forward to tomorrow's meeting, I might even bring some of this up for discussion purpose. Come on down and join that discussion. See ya there!!

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