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Planners weigh impact of large solar projects

Saturday, September 24, 2016 - Updated: 1:08 AM


By EMILY DREW

Recorder News Staff

FONDA -- As solar developments become more abundant in Montgomery County, the county planning board is working to decide the best route to take when assessing large developments.

County senior planner William Roehr commended the county planning board for its thorough look at a two-system development on Log City Road that was referred by the town of Amsterdam. The topic sparked discussion Thursday among board members as to how to best study the potential impact of the developments.

Board member David Wiener said he felt the board would be able to get the best impression of potential impact by going out to the site during a work session.

"I found with the visuals that unless we go there, we're really not going to know," Wiener said.

Roehr agreed. Upon concern that going out to the site would violate open meeting laws, Roehr said the public would be notified of the board's plan.

"Something of this scale, it's hard to visualize," he said, referring to systems such as the Log City Road project or a system on Route 67 in the town of Amsterdam, both of which were proposed by Borrego Solar Systems.

The Route 67 Project, consisting of 2.8 megawatts, is already underway. According to Amsterdam Supervisor Thomas DiMezza, Borrego pulled its application for the Log City Road project.

The project would have consisted of two systems, one 2.7 megawatts and the other 1.6. Several Amsterdam residents who live on Log City Road had raised concerns that the project would disrupt the quality of life in the neighborhood, specifically regarding the visual impacts.

The county planning board had similar concerns when it denied the site plan referral from the town of Amsterdam Planning Board during its July meeting. The denial stated nearby landowners would be negatively impacted by the project due to inadequate screening and minimal setbacks.

The denial further states the site plan did not convincingly demonstrate the photovoltaic arrays would be visually buffered.

County planning board members agreed the only way to see what buffering methods would be needed to block the solar arrays from neighbors would be to go out to the site and see if the development would be on a hill or if neighboring properties are elevated.

"Our vote will be more meaningful and strong by what we've seen with our own eyes as opposed to having an engineer come in here and say there's no problems," Wiener said.

Board members said their respective townships have been working on implementing laws to regulate solar developments. Mark Hoffman, who is chairman of the town of Mohawk Planning Board, said while a solar company has not approached the town yet, he wants to get something in place.

"I personally think the town should have something in case someone comes to us," Hoffman said.

Wiener said since Charleston does not have zoning, the town is looking to pass a town-wide law in order to maintain the visual character of the area.

"It's the visuals," he said. "We have a sleepy town, bedroom town, you live here and work other places.... Our vision is to maintain the farming, rural look."

Wiener said Charleston has been basing its own law off of the law Amsterdam is currently considering. Concerns, he said, range mostly toward the visual with light, glare and visual impacts on the neighbors, as well as noise.