The Carroll County Board of Supervisors will take more time to consider adoption of a windmill ordinance after being presented with a draft at its Dec. 12 meeting.
County Attorney Jim Cornwell presented “an ordinance regulating and prohibiting tall structures on certain ridgelines in Carroll County,” during the meeting. Cornwell said he took the state statute and statutory definitions and put them in the ordinance.
“I wanted to go through them with you because I think you are going to see issues and concerns that both (GIS Coordinator) Justin (Barnard) and I have with the ordinance,” Cornwell said of the ordinance supervisors asked him to draft after EDP Renewables began to study a wind farm on Stoots Mountain in Carroll County earlier in the year.
Definitions listed in the ordinance come straight out of the state statute, Cornwell said. Crest is listed to mean the uppermost line of a mountain or chain of mountains from which land falls away on at least two sides to a lower elevation or elevations. Protective mountain ridge means a ridge within the county as shown upon the protected mountain ridgeline map with an elevation of 2,000 feet or more and an elevation of 500 feet or more above the elevation of an adjacent valley floor.
“It does not define what adjacent means so I asked Justin to give us a map of a protected mountain ridge which shows parts of the county with an elevation of 2,000 feet or more and an elevation of 500 feet or more above the elevation of an adjacent valley floor regardless of where that adjacent valley floor may be,” Cornwell said. “This is the problem. The ridgeline, is it just the tops, or is it everything above 2,000 feet? This map shows it as being everything above 2,000 feet and you can see the yellow would be your ridgelines on which tall structures would not be allowed to be constructed.”
But if the board were to determine using the definition that it’s just the top of ridges, then you would go to the crest because there is a fall off of crests of a drop more than 500 feet even though you are still above 2,000 feet when you get to the bottom of the drop, he said.
“What complicates it a little bit more is some of the other definitions. If you look at the next definition that says ridgeline or ridge is the elongated crest or series of crests at the apex or uppermost portion of intersection between two opposite slopes or sides or mountains and includes all land within 100 feet, measured horizontally, below the elevation of any portion of such line or service along the crest,” Cornwell said. “Well, again you get to the same issue, is that just simply a portion or is that simply a ridgeline even though it drops? And again, if a tall structure were to be built here, it is likely people over here and over there won’t see it. But this is before people here and there will see it, so that is a complicated factor with the topography of Carroll County. Almost everywhere except when you get below the mountain in Cana is protected mountain ridge under the broad definition.”
Cornwell said the definition for tall buildings or structures can also cause be confusing. It’s defined as any building, structure or unit within a multi-unit building with a vertical height of more than 40 feet measured from the top of the natural finished grade of the crest or the natural finished grade on the high side of the slope of a ridge to the uppermost portion of a building, structure or unit.
“It’s not per se a 40 foot high building…you don’t start measuring the building until you get to the top of the crest, wherever you want to say where that crest is. So conceivably since you have to build 100 feet down below the crest, you could still build a 40-foot building and it would not be a tall building because you don’t start your measurement until the top of the crest,” Cornwell said. “This is very oriented to topography. It is going to have to be really looked at as to how you want to determine how you are going to fit the ordinance into your topography because the map you adopt as part of the ordinance is part of the ordinance and is binding just as part of the ordinance.”
The county attorney also noted that tall buildings or structures do not include water, radio, telecommunications or television towers or any equipment for the transmission of electricity, telephone or cable television. Structures of a relatively slender nature and minor vertical projections of a parent building, including, but not limited to chimneys, flagpoles, flues, spires, belfries, cupolas, steeples, antennas, poles, wires or windmills; or any building or structure designated as a historic landmark are also not included as part of the definition of a tall building or structure.
“Basically the windmill we all think about when we think about windmills, the type that farmers use, is not going to be covered by this ordinance. It is my opinion that wind turbines will be covered because they are not of slender proportion,” Cornwell said.
Enforcement of the ordinance will be performed by the county building inspector’s office because that’s where people go for building permits, said Cornwell. The office shall not issue a permit for the construction of any tall building on a protected mountain ridge, he said. But if a parcel of land lies partially on a protected mountain ridge and partially off a protected mountain ridge, it would then be the property owner’s requirement to establish to the building inspector’s satisfaction that he is not building on the portion that falls within the protected mountain ridge. Citizens will be able to appeal decisions of the building inspector to the county administrator.
“That in a nutshell is an ordinance. I think as you can see there are some questions that the board needs to ponder because of the topography of the county,” Cornwell said. “I think we’ve given you the two extremes here. It’s hard though using the definitions that are in the code to come up with a middle ground.”
Supervisor Tom Littrell thanked Cornwell and Barnard for their time putting together a draft ordinance. He said he was concerned about the ambiguity of the ordinance, however.
“There is a lot of ands, ifs and buts that there don’t seem to be a clear answer for, and I’m also afraid some of these things might have some unintended consequences for future economic development,” Littrell said. “So I think we need to review this very, very carefully before we take any action, and I feel like whatever ordinance we end up passing or not passing should be clearly understood.”
Cornwell said both he and Barnard shared Littrell’s concerns. Unfortunately, he said he didn’t draft the statute from which the ordinance was derived. He said he wished some of the definitions could be changed, but Dillon’s Rules say you must do what the state tells you.
Dickson noted that the board is continuing to gather information on the subject. Some citizens in the county are still providing information to the board to further their study on windmills and wind turbines.
“We do appreciate the information we get because when you make a decision you put all the information together and study it,” Dickson said. “Hopefully we will make a decision that is best for the county.”
Later in the meeting, the board heard from Deanna Zimmerman from the Virginia Center for Wind Energy, which offers non-biased information to localities considering similar ordinances. She invited the board to attend an upcoming regional meeting with neighboring counties to see what they are doing on the topic. Littrell said he thought that would be a good idea and could lead to “on-the-ground research.”
Glenn Sage also spoke to the board about his concerns over an ordinance concerning tall structures, fearing such an ordinance could be in violation of federal and state regulations, and that it could hinder economic development.