Parties to Meet for Settlement Conference on Wind Turbine
Robert Burke: 'I’m in this to be able to do what the town has illegally prevented me from doing.'
Wayne Auto Spa owner Robert Burke and the township are due back in court to try and settle a dispute involving a wind turbine that has dragged on for nearly three years.
Representatives from both sides are scheduled to meet at a settlement conference in federal court Sept. 12.
“I’m not in this litigation as a get-rich-quick scheme; I’m not in this for money,” Burke said. “I’m in this to be able to do what the town has illegally prevented me from doing.”
Burke applied in 2007 to install a 43-foot tall wind turbine with 6-foot long blades to generate electricity for his business, Wayne Auto Spa, on Hamburg Turnpike.
The Planning Board denied Burke’s application in October of 2008 citing a lack of expert testimony and concerns about safety and noise. State Superior Court Judge Donald Volkert overturned the denial in July 2010 but the town has refused to issue the building permits. Burke is suing the township for the issuance of the permits.
“There is no circumstance in which I will settle this case without those permits,” Burke said.
Residents strongly objected to Burke’s application, claiming the turbine would be dangerous and noisy, concerns the board shared. The property is located near single-family homes and a daycare facility.
In his decision, Volkert said that the board improperly denied the application due to the concerns.
“The board should have granted minor site plan approval and used its authority to place reasonable conditions to mitigate any noise or safety impacts,” Volkert said in his ruling. “The board did not have the authority to enforce noise or safety ordinances. That is the responsibility of administrative departments.”
Burke is also looking to recoup between $250,000 and $300,000 in legal fees he claims he is owed. If the township is forced to pay Burke the money will be taken out of the municipality's Joint Insurance Fund, not the municipal budget funded by local taxes.
“I’m confident that I’ll get back every penny of what I am owed,” Burke said.
The council approved an ordinance in December 2009 permitting wind turbines to be installed in industrial areas in the township but not at the Wayne Auto Spa.
Burke said he has reached out to township officials with a settlement offer multiple times but has not heard anything back. Assemblyman Scott Rumana, who was mayor at the time of Burke’s initial application, declined comment, except to say that he “always had reservations about the project due to its proximity to single-family homes and a daycare center.”
Mayor Chris Vergano declined to comment because the matter is still pending in court. Township attorney Matthew Giacobbe also declined to comment. Assistant Township Attorney John McKniff could not be reached for comment.
“We can stop the bleeding. The town can pay the legal fees that are incurred to date and issue the permits that I’ve already won and we can put it to bed,” Burke said. “Or, we can continue to litigate and it’s only going to cost a lot more money.”