Gaines says Watt needs to take down turbine

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 December 2013 at 12:00 am

154-foot-high structure will be allowed away from public

GAINES – The Town of Gaines Zoning Board of Appeals ruled tonight that Chris Watt needs to take down a 154-foot-high turbine that was erected about two years ago at Watt Farms, 3121 Oak Orchard Rd.

Watt can put it up somewhere else on his property as long as it’s at least 169.4 feet away from the public. That includes U-pick orchards and a route that is used by a train as part of the farm’s agri-tourism efforts.

The turbine was the focus of a lawsuit in state Supreme Court after Watt’s next-door neighbor Mary Neilans and her brother Robert sued the town, claiming proper procedures weren’t followed. The Planning Board waived site plan review and didn’t offer residents a chance to comment on the turbine during a public hearing, according to their lawsuit in State Supreme Court.

Judge James Punch issued a ruling in January 2012, not siding with either party. He put the issue back in the town’s hands.

The Town Planning Board was abolished by the Town Board last year and its functions were passed to the ZBA. That board made Watt submit a site plan application for the turbine. The board said Watt could keep the turbine but it needed to be moved away from a farm market/greenhouse/retail area. It is currently 117 feet away from the building.

The town wants a buffer zone of 1.1 times the height of a turbine or 169.4 feet in this case. That is the recommended distance from the state Ag and Markets, according to the ZBA decision.

“This came down to public safety,” said Michael Grabowski, the ZBA chairman.

The board was unanimous tonight with members Raymond Burke, Marilynn Miller, Curtis Strickland and David Thom all joining Grabowski in supporting the decision.

Watt attended the meeting with his attorney Lance Mark. They said they will consider their next course of action, which may include an appeal in State Supreme Court.

The ZBA did not find fault with the turbine fitting agricultural purposes or meeting the setback requirement from a neighbor’s property. Grabowski said the turbine met those standards. But he said the structure needs to be moved away from public spaces in case the tower fell or a blade broke off.