CAPE MAY _ Modern windmills could mar the historic character of this Victorian seaside resort that uses its history to attract tourists.
Modern windmills could also save huge amounts of money on energy costs.
That's a debate going on here as the city's Historic Preservation Commission has asked City Council for an ordinance banning windmills _ at least in the most historic part of town. Some HPC members are even concerned a windmill outside the district could visually mar it.
A town that traces its lineage to a 17th century Dutch explorer, in a county where windmill technology from Holland fueled its early growth, would have no problem with the wooden windmills of yesteryear.
The problem is that windmills today look, well, too modern for America's oldest seashore resort.
"They are not appropriate in the Historic District and maybe not in Cape May," Warren Coupland, a member of the HPC, told council on Tuesday.
Council is being asked for the measure at the same time when it is planning to construct five wind turbines at its new convention facility on Beach Avenue to save energy costs. The city is also looking into wind technology to reduce annual electric costs of $225,000 at its water desalination plant and has already supported a plan by the U.S. Coast Guard to construct two turbines, each about 300 feet high, at its base on the east side of town.
Mayor Ed Mahaney said there are several other areas in town where windmills could be a possibility. Mahaney said he did not want to limit options that could create economic or energy disadvantages in the future.
"Convention Hall will have five small wind turbines. It's not in the Historic District but they will be seen from the Historic District. Before we create restraining ordinances we need to look at it more fully," Mahaney told Coupland.
Coupland said there may be a way "to cloak them better" so the turbines are not seen.
"I took exception to wind turbines at Convention Hall. I think they are obtrusive," said Coupland.
HPC Chairwoman Mary Ann Gaffney said she opposes windmills in the Historic District but not in other areas of town. Gaffney, who served on a city committee looking into alternative energy sources, said she also supports offshore wind farms.
"Do I want to see a windmill on your front lawn? No.," said Gaffney.
Coupland suggested windmills face HPC approval, which would be granted if they are outside the Historic District or not visible from the district.
Artist's renderings released in 2008 by the Coast Guard show the proposed turbines at Training Center Cape May would be visible from some areas of town.
Charlotte Todd, who chairs the city's Environmental Commission, stressed that wind technology will get less obtrusive.
"I know as technology evolves it will get smaller. You can cover buildings with tiny turbine chips and cool that building. It's happening now in England, Denmark and Spain. It will be happening here very shortly," said Todd.
Windmills were only one of three changes the HPC is asking council to adopt. The commission wants to allow solar panels but only if they are not visible to the public.
Last year the commission ruled on its first solar project, allowing panels on the 1888 Carroll Villa Hotel owned by Mark Kulkowitz as long as they could not be seen by people strolling below on historic Jackson Street.
"Solar panels are appropriate even in the Historic District. They key is they are not visible," said Coupland.
The city just finished two solar panel projects and plans a third one at the new convention center.
The third request concerned window treatments and was described by the HPC as just a clarification. Owners of historic buildings are already only allowed to use wooden windows, but new window treatment technology includes windows made with wood and other materials. Companies that make them say they can save energy and reduce maintenance.
The HPC wants stricter wording so it is clear only wood, either the original windows or wooden replacements, are used.
"We want 100 percent wood, it's better than what they're buying now but people want something new," said Gaffney.
Coupland said an older window covered with a storm window is actually more energy efficient. He said discarding old windows is "less green" than maintaining them.
Mahaney said he agreed with the commission's stances on windows and solar panels but more discussion is needed on windmills.