The Martha’s Vineyard Commission last week approved a wind energy plan that will regulate wind turbine development on Island land and waters.
The commission will use the plan as guidance when reviewing turbines. The commission plans to review the plan again in five years, though members emphasized that the plan could be changed at any time.
The 155-page report, first released last summer, was described as a “balanced, cautious approach” that commissioners said was protective of the Island. On land, it designates three areas: exclusionary zones, where no turbines would be permitted; areas of special concern, where turbines would be avoided, minimized, or mitigated and would require a mandatory MVC review and/or a special permit; and qualified areas, where there would be town review only for turbines shorter than 150 feet, with some exceptions.
The plan designates 40 per cent of the Vineyard’s land as exclusionary, 50 per cent as areas of special concern, and 10 per cent as qualified areas. An accompanying map of the Vineyard shows small patches of qualified areas, with coastal land and the state forest designated as exclusionary areas.
Offshore, there are two categories: exclusionary areas and areas of special concern. For ocean areas belonging to Vineyard towns, 95 per cent would be exclusionary and five per cent would be areas of special concern. A map of offshore zones shows that all waters immediately off the Vineyard would be exclusionary zones, with a swath of the Atlantic Ocean south of the Island designated an area of special concern.
During a discussion, commissioners offered differing viewpoints on the plan.
“The amount of land that is excluded based on what is apparently aesthetic judgement bothers me,” commissioner Linda Sibley said, adding that she is more concerned about things like noise impact, and that she doesn’t mind seeing the turbines.
Commissioner Brian Smith had a different view. “How many hours a week do we spend talking about aesthetics?” he said. “I know you think they are a thing of beauty . . . others think it destroys the natural environment.” He said he thought the wind plan was not restrictive enough, and turbines should not be seen from any property.
“At least it’s better than nothing, which is what we have now,” said commissioner Fred Hancock. “I’d be happy that we made a start on this . . . without it we really have nothing on the table.”
Commissioners made a few amendments to the original plan. Commissioner Erik Hammarlund suggested a general policy that negative impacts of wind turbine installation should be shouldered by the owner and not abutters. For example, he said, the turbines should be located as far as possible from neighbors’ homes.
The commission voted 10-1 for the plan. Mr. Smith said he could not support it because it did not offer enough protection for abutters.
In other business, the commission held a public hearing about a planned expansion to the Sepiessa affordable housing development.
The Island Housing Trust and Dukes County Regional Housing Authority submitted plans to expand the current development by adding three new apartment units with a total of six bedrooms, bringing the complex to seven units with 12 bedrooms on three acres.
Island Housing Trust executive director Philippe Jordi said that the plans have the full support of the West Tisbury affordable housing committee, and there is a wait list of 204 income-eligible people for the units.
There was little public comment, though one distant neighbor said there has been a problem with headlights from housing complex cars coming into neighbors’ bedrooms, and asked for mitigation in the form of planting barriers.
Mr. Jordi said they were committed to working with neighbors.
The units are now on a title V septic system; the plan calls for installing a new septic and de-nitrification for all the units.
According to a staff report on the project, the proposal would exceed the nitrogen load limit for the Tisbury Great Pond but it does meet the MVC’s nitrogen loading policy by decreasing the overall nitrogen load.
Commission chairman Chris Murphy pointed out that the West Tisbury planning board has concerns that the project is too dense for the area, and said that putting a number of units in a small lot could affect the rural, agricultural area.
The commission will deliberate and vote on the decision at its Nov. 1 meeting.
The commission also held a public hearing to discuss new landscape and site design guidelines. The plan is to help the public understand how the MVC evaluates proposed developments of regional impact; the site design policy aims to describe ways the Island can be developed in a way that protects the Island’s character and environment, according to the plan. There were no public comments at the meeting except for one submitted email, though the commissioners discussed whether the document constituted policy, guidelines or regulations, and decided to work further on the draft and the public hearing was continued to Nov. 1.