Ellicott Street Road solar projects on hold pending receipt of additional visual documentation
The Batavia Town Board Tuesday night tabled action necessary to advance a community solar project on Ellicott Street Road – the pros and cons of which have been dissected and discussed by engineers, developers, planners and neighbors for the past year and a half.
Introduced in June 2019, the proposal from Cypress Creek Renewables LLC calls for placement of two solar farms on property owned by Don Partridge at 5117 Ellicott Street Road.
One, Trousdale Solar I, is a 5-megawatt array on 18.2 acres of a 65-acre parcel, and the other, Trousdale Solar II, is an adjacent 4-megawatt system on 19.6 acres of a 71-acre parcel of farmland off Route 63, southeast of the city.
Town planners at their meeting via Zoom videoconferencing last night were looking to proclaim a negative declaration for the State Environmental Quality Review, which deals with the projects’ combined effect on the land, and also to approve separate site plans and special use permits for the two tracts.
During the SEQR process, however, Steve Tanner, a planning board member, said it would be wise to get an updated visual impact study as he had concerns over the proposed screening of the layout from neighboring properties.
Cypress Creek representatives Jerry Leone and civil engineer Nick Hawvermale indicated that they had addressed the town’s request to mitigate any visual impacts by moving a portion of screening (trees, etc.) further south, closer to a neighbor’s property.
After hearing Tanner’s request for photos to be taken from the neighbors’ view, Leone asked Town Engineer Steve Mountain for assistance in obtaining access. Mountain said that would be possible, noting that landowners have been accommodating to the town on other projects.
With an eye on making this happen before the board’s next meeting on Feb. 16, Leone said his company is “prepared to move quickly.”
Planning Board Chair Kathleen Jasinski brought up tabling everything until the supplemental photo documentation was obtained, prompting Partridge, a planning board member, to advise that he had taken more pictures that day from the border of neighboring fields.
“I don’t know what difference it will matter getting up next to their house another 30 feet to visualize something that will be behind the trees that are on Folger’s (property),” he said. “And we have a presentation where they have the driveway and the trees on that. Now if you go to the other side of Folger’s with that tree line … it’s going to be the same kind of visualization on the knoll behind the Smiths' and the ARC properties.”
A motion to table was presented, however, with Town Building Inspector Dan Lang suggesting to “err on the side of caution” before Tanner reiterated his call for “a complete set of documents that show everything we are asking for” – views with screening and without screening.
Planner Jonathan Long supported that, referring to a question on the SEQR application that points to the solar farm being inconsistent with the character of the natural landscape and surmising that proper screening would mitigate potential issues.
Hawvermale took several minutes to go over the renderings of the two solar farms, making planners aware of the placement and types of screenings and buffers.
When questioned about the number of utility poles on the layout, Leone said that is within National Grid’s “purview” and leaves Cypress Creek little flexibility. Hawvermale did provide specifics, indicating that there will be five utility company poles and three others to be put up by Cypress Creek.
Jasinski said the town will contact National Grid to get information about the number of poles in writing, adding that the power company has permitted a fewer number on other projects.
Planners also asked about glare, with Lang stating that a study came back showing no glare at all on the site. Still, he is requesting further research because that is the first time a report came back with that result.
When voting on the proposal does occur, Partridge will be required to abstain.
In recent weeks, neighbors and others living on Ellicott Street Road have spoken out about Partridge’s plan, citing impacts on the land and property values, and questioning whether two 20-acre side-by-side arrays violate the maximum limit imposed by the Town of Batavia.