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March 17, 2021 - 12:05pm

Concessions in hand, Batavia Town planners approve Ellicott Street Road solar projects

An Ellicott Street Road farmer’s plan to place a pair of side-by-side community solar arrays on his property received the green light from the Batavia Town Planning Board on Tuesday night, but not before the project developer agreed to concessions pertaining to utility poles and aesthetics.

Toward the end of a 58-minute discussion among planners, Town of Batavia officials and representatives of Cypress Creek Renewables LLC via Zoom videoconferencing, five of the six planning board members on the call voted that the solar farms would cause no or little adverse environmental impact, and also approved the site plans and the required special use permits.

The proposal was presented in June 2019 by Don Partridge, who also is a member of the planning board. He was not allowed to vote on any measures pertaining to the project.

Partridge has contracted with Cypress Creek Renewables to construct two adjacent solar farms at 5117 Ellicott Street Road, southeast of the city limits:

  • A 5-megawatt array on 18.2 acres of a 65-acre parcel of otherwise agricultural land, known as Trousdale Solar I;
  • A 4-megawatt system on 19.6 acres of a 71-acre parcel of otherwise agricultural land, known as Trousdale Solar II.

The planning board tabled the project last month after determining it needed more photos and visual projections of current and future screening of the solar panel arrays.

Additional Screenings, Pole Relocation

Last night, Cypress Creek Renewables representatives Jerry Leone, Nick Hawvermale and attorney Mark Sweeney did present maps of the property, updated to show additional screening (berms and trees) – and what it would look like in five and 10 years. They also reported the relocation of three utility poles owned by CCR about 230 feet into the site, within the fence line.

Currently, the site plan calls for four utility poles owned by National Grid and the three owned by CCR.

While acknowledging CCR’s good faith effort to address the board’s concerns, planning board Member Paul McCullough said he believed that the number of poles could be reduced, calling them “ugly in these projects.”

His colleague, Jonathan Long, agreed, adding that the poles still could be seen from the solar farm’s driveway.

Planners also had hoped that the developers would obtain a letter from National Grid to see if the company could eliminate some of its utility poles, but Leone said the power company indicated it was unable to provide that.

Leone offered to plant more soil berms as “further mitigation -- not 24-feet high, but ground berming to create “more of a fit naturally to the land.”

What About Ground-mounted Enclosures?

At that point, McCullough asked if CCR could replace the utility poles with ground-mounted (transformer boxes). Leone responded by saying that modification would be expensive.

“We would be looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of about a $200,000 delta between what we’re proposing and going to a ground, perhaps a minimum, and that would be per connection,” Leone said.  "It gets to the point where we’re talking about a healthy price tag when we start talking about mounting below grade.”

Planner Steve Tanner noted CCR’s attempt at mitigation, but questioned whether it was enough to enable the board to issue a negative declaration for the State Environmental Quality Review.

The developers again brought up the additional screening on the east side and vegetative buffer in front of neighboring properties, before Leone advanced – "as a last resort” -- the idea of ground-mounted enclosures to replace a pole or two.

McCullough said he would be on board with that.

Hawvermale then reiterated the increased cost to CCR and said he hoped that National Grid could do the same, to some degree, with its poles.

“It does add construction timeline implications that make it a little more difficult for us. That’s something we can look into with National Grid,” he said.

Tanner then suggested that any site plan approval and special use permits issued should include stipulations that the three CCR poles and at least one National Grid pole be replaced with ground-mounted apparatus.

SEQR, Site Plans, Permits Approved

With that in place, planners voted that the project would have no or little environmental impact – thus rendering a “negative declaration” on the combined SEQR.

They then voted separately on the site plans and special use permits for the two arrays, heeding Town Engineer Steve Mountain’s advice to make it contingent upon: town engineering approval; obtaining cost estimates in the case of decommissioning; addressing NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets comments; securing additional screening; and reduction of the utility poles.

Unanimous votes on both solar farms now gives CCR the right to proceed with the project, pending the signing of resolutions that spell out the specifics of what was agreed upon.

Planning Board Chair Kathleen Jasinski, thanked all parties upon approval of the referral, adding that “it was mitigated to the best of our ability … and we can’t make everyone happy but we did our best.”

Jasinski opened the meeting by reading a letter dated March 9 from Christopher and Christine Long of 9234 Batavia Stafford Townline Road, expressing “our many concerns of a solar panel project so close in proximity to our home.” The Longs asked Jasinski if she would share the letter with the planning board before voting took place.

Summarizing, the Longs wrote that it was “wholly inappropriate for Partridge to “consistently sell his land to parties directly involved in Town of Batavia building projects while he is serving another seven-year term with the Planning Board … “and is a blatant and obvious conflict of interest.”

Concerns Over Resale Value, Safety

The couple also wrote that the solar farm would decrease the value and resale of its three parcels, totaling 5.4 acres with 1,080 feet of frontage on Batavia Stafford Townline Road, and are concerned for the safety of its family “as the project emerges in what is, essentially, our backyard.”

The Longs also said the project “is in direct conflict” with the Town of Batavia’s mission statement, which is to “protect and promote public health, safety, morals and general welfare for all residents in the Town of Batavia.”

Other reasons for their opposition indicated in the letter include safety of the industrial solar panels, pollution, disruption of the surrounding farmland and displacement of wildlife.

In closing, while reiterating its disagreement with the proposal, the Longs said they “adamantly insist that in addition to the installation of the code-required 8-foot perimeter fence, that a berm and/or several rows of trees be included in the plan and be established between the east side of the project and our home (and the) current trees and vegetation that compose the existing hedgerow should also remain intact.”

Partridge made a brief statement after Jasinski finished reading the letter:

“Relative to the Batavia Stafford Townline (Road), there are at least two properties between any properties on the town line and my property, and there’s no way that anywhere on the Batavia Stafford Townline (Road) you’ll be able to see this project. That’s all I want to say.”

Outdoor Shooting Range on Hold Until April 6

On another front, planners heard briefly from Brandon Lewis, owner of The Firing Pin in Bergen, about his plan to develop an outdoor recreational facility that includes shooting ranges and a drive-in movie theater on a 22-acre parcel at 3269 Harloff Road.

Previously, Lewis presented his proposal to the Genesee County Planning Board, which recommended approval of a special use permit and site plan with modifications pertaining to stormwater pollution mitigation, acquiring the proper permits, and ensuring there is no glare from the movie screen onto the New York State Thruway.

Town Building Inspector Dan Lang said his office has received numerous phone calls from residents – some positive and some negative – and asked planners to direct all questions in email form to Lang or Mountain.

Jasinski said a site plan review will be placed on the April 6 agenda and voting on the special use permit will take place after a public hearing on April 20.

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