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December 25, 2014
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Proposed windmill stirs controversy


Property owner and Hollywood legend Judd Hirsch has applied for a variance to allow him to construct a 176-foot turbine on Eve Eden Road in the Town of Denning, which is on the north side of the remote Roundout Reservoir.

Some of his neighbors are less than pleased with the prospect of a windmill in their rural neighborhood, and they have circulated a petition asking the zoning board of appeals (ZBA) to deny the variance.

The ZBA had been scheduled to make a decision on the matter at a November 13 meeting, but the Ulster County Planning Board (UPB) got wind of the issue and asked the ZBA to put off a the decision until the planning board has time to review the application.

In New York State, county planning boards can weigh in on zoning matters in some cases, for instance, if a project would have intercommunity impacts. But a spokeswoman for the UPB said no one could offer a comment about what the board will be looking for until they have examined the application. The UPB meets next on December 4.

According to the minutes of the ZBA meeting on October 30, which included a public hearing on the wind turbine, various concerns were raised about the matter. The question of whether birds would be harmed by the windmill was responded to by a contractor for the project, Sherret Chase, who offered a statement from the National Audubon Society, which said residents would see no impact on the local bird population.

Also according to the minutes, “Questions were raised about physical dangers (ice fling, sound, catastrophic failure, fire and rescue). The site was chosen to make sure that these possible problems would not be a danger to the homeowner. The site chosen is a far distance from neighboring properties as to remove effect of failure.”

The minutes indicate that the biggest concern was the impact the windmill would have on the viewshed, especially the “magnificent view of the Shawangunk Mountain range,” which reportedly “would not be blocked for anyone.”

In deliberating the matter, board members will probably be considering relevant sections of the town code, which say that a variance may only be granted if three conditions are met: the land in question cannot yield a reasonable return if used only for a purpose allowed in the district in which it is located; the circumstances applying to the property are unique and do not generally apply to other properties in the district; the use to be authorized by the variance will not alter the essential character of the surrounding area.

Some residents of the town feel that even though town officials followed the legal procedures for notifying residents about the public hearing and the workshop on the matter that preceded the hearing, they could have taken additional steps to notify more residents about the project earlier, to allow residents more time to educate themselves on the issue.

On another matter, several residents sent letters to the editor to The River Reporter because the local newspaper, Ye Olde Tri-Valley Townsman, has declined to publish letters to the editor about the matter, either pro or con.

Resident Tiffany Gillman wrote that she objected to the turbine because the constant noise of the turning blades would mar her son’s enjoyment of the rural countryside and wildlife. She wrote, “I know some people will guffaw when reading this and say, ‘there goes another one of those pesky environmentalists,’ but I would never call myself that. I don’t always take the extra steps to the recycling can, I drive an SUV when I know there are more efficient cars available, I gave up vegetarianism when I realized how good bacon tasted.” But, she says she and some of her neighbors are opposed in part because they don’t know enough about the impact on the environment and the people.

But for the paper, the decision not to publish letters was in part one based on economics. In response to a complaint from resident Sharon Selwyn about the paper’s decision, the editor, Linda Comando, wrote, “to ask us to print all of the letters that we received would take almost two pages and quite frankly it is cost prohibitive.”

As for the decision to print no letters at all, she wrote, “It is my understanding that the Town of Denning Zoning Board will be voting on this issue, and that there will be no further public comment. With this being the case, what would all of these letters gain except to cause dissension among neighbors, which I can see by your note, is already happening.”