Jackson residents approved a new wind turbine ordinance Feb. 6. The document had been championed by those with concerns about industrial wind-power development, but according to the town’s attorney, has flaws that could be exploited by developers.

The ordinance defines four classes of turbine, reserving the toughest restrictions for the largest — industrial turbines more than 300 feet tall — and developments that include three or more smaller turbines. For these, the minimum setback must be equal to 13 times the height of the turbine, or one mile for a 400-foot turbine.

The Planning Board formally presented the 50-page document to town selectmen Dec. 1. At that time, some residents reportedly asked the selectmen to schedule a town meeting to vote on the ordinance. The selectmen wanted to square the ordinance with the town attorney first. Fearing that modifications to the ordinance would soften the restrictions that relate to noise and shadow-flicker — specifically, the one-mile setback — a citizen group circulated a petition, effectively forcing the Feb. 6 vote against the wishes of the selectmen. During the intervening time, town attorney William Kelly reviewed the ordinance and returned with 40 recommendations.

Underlying Saturday’s vote was the question of whether the ordinance, written by the Planning Board and wind energy subcommittee over the last 16 months, should be enacted now and amended later to address legal concerns, or whether a vote should have been delayed until the legal issues were resolved.

The meeting lasted for 90 minutes, but an early motion to forgo all discussion of the ordinance — nearly unanimously supported — suggested that many residents had their minds made up when they arrived. The motion was eventually retracted on the advice of Kelly, who argued that a public hearing must allow for discussion.

A dozen residents spoke and the comments were evenly split between those who supported the ordinance and those who opposed it for various reasons, including a fear of litigation and a desire to allow more discussion of the document. The town selectmen did not speak during the meeting.

Nearly all of the pro-ordinance speakers invoked the negative side-effects of living near turbines.

“I’m basically going to move out of my house,” said Patricia McCue, who said she lives near where turbines would be built. “People in town may not have to see it and deal with it, but people on the ridge will, and we’re part of the town too,” she said, drawing applause from some of those attending.

Town Clerk and former Planning Board Chairwoman Brenda Dennison commended the work that went into the ordinance, but said the document wasn’t ready. “Why vote for something now only to fix it later?” she said. “… The issue here is not shadow-flicker or noise. The issue is that it’s not ready.”

Asked for his view, town attorney Kelly said he had no opinion on the substance of the ordinance, but felt that ambiguities in the document could put residents concerned about the adverse effects of wind developments in greater danger than voting the ordinance down, which he said would allow a six-month moratorium on permits for wind developments enacted in December to remain in effect. First enacted in January of 2009, the moratorium has been renewed twice, and town officials had said it could be renewed again if need be. Kelly noted that voting in the ordinance would end the moratorium.

“It’s not unheard of that a person will apply a term of the ordinance with the intent of taking advantage of ambiguity,” he said.

Kelly described the ordinance as a pie, half-baked. “And some of you folks want to bake it,” he said. “And I can understand why.”

Several of the residents who spoke against enacting the ordinance echoed Kelly’s concerns. One speaker asked to delay a decision until tensions cooled between what he described as “self-interest on both sides.”

Duane Lahaye held up a device resembling a chimney cowl that he said was a 500-watt unidirectional wind turbine he designed and built. LaHaye said the five such turbines he currently uses at his home would, under the proposed ordinance, be subject to the same approval process as an industrial-scale wind development. “This is really stifling entrepreneurship,” he said. “…It’s not just about the great big windmills.”

After a dozen speakers, a motion was made to move the question to a vote. Residents approved the ordinance by a margin of 111 to 75.

Commenting after the meeting, Kelly said the criteria on adverse effects should be better defined in the ordinance. “The Planning Board shouldn’t be able to apply the ordinance differently to different applicants,” he said.

“The ordinance will always need to be improved,” said wind ordinance subcommittee member David McDaniel. “Everybody was talking about setbacks, but there are some other amazing sections.” McDaniel listed three — a section on community wind, a provision that extends jurisdiction over municipal lines for Jackson-based projects located near the town lines, and a section addressing ethical standards, which McDaniel said are the highest in the state.

“I’m really proud of our town,” he said. “It didn’t matter if you were for or against it, 180 people showed up. That’s amazing.”

Selectman David Greeley saw it differently. “What we were trying to do is have an orderly process here and not be pushed around by a not-in-my-backyard group,” he said.