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August 11, 2021 - 5:49pm

Le Roy Zoning Board of Appeals chair Barbeau articulates reasoning behind unanimous vote to not allow solar farm

The Le Roy Town Zoning Board of Appeals’ unanimous decision Tuesday night to disallow a solar farm on Thwing Road was more than a 3-0 vote -- it was a 3-0 vote times five, according to ZBA Chair Stephen Barbeau.

Barbeau returned a call from The Batavian seeking reasons behind the panel’s action pertaining to CleanChoice Energy’s application to site a 4.95-megawatt solar array on farmland owned by the Gary W. Clark family at 7120 Thwing Rd.

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SEE ALSO: Solar company rep reacts to Le Roy ZBA's denial of community solar project proposed for Thwing Road

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A former Le Roy Town supervisor, Barbeau said the application, in this case, had to meet five different criteria before the ZBA could issue the use variance necessary to place a solar farm in a district zoned other than either Industrial or Interchange (near the NYS Thruway).

The first one was whether the project could be considered a “public utility,” which was the contention of CleanChoice Energy, and the other criteria – in four parts – were contained in the standard use variance guidelines issued by New York State, he said.

“It’s not for the Le Roy Zoning Board of Appeals to declare that commercial solar projects are akin to a public utility; that’s way above our pay grade,” Barbeau said. “That is not something that is supported in the law as it is known and we had no desire to make new law or try to make new law or set any new precedent.”

Barbeau said the ZBA sought out legal advice from multiple sources in order to make an informed decision.

“The applicants, their attorney, Ty (Baccile, project manager) and the Clarks are all good people,” he said, “but the elected board members of the Town Board set code and what these folks were asking for was an exception to that code.

“For us to grant an exception, there had to be some kind of overwhelming, unique, unusual circumstances as it is pretty rare that a use permit is granted.  It’s a very high bar.”

He said that the vote by the three voting ZBA members was 3-0 against categorizing the project a public utility and 3-0 on each of the other four criteria.

“Even if we had relaxed the standards (on the public utility issue) as they wanted us to, they still wouldn’t have cleared the other hurdles,” he said

The four criteria for a use variance for any town, according to Barbeau, are as follows:

1 – The applicant would not be able to realize a reasonable return (profit) as shown by financial evidence and that lack of return must be substantial.

“For example, 'I can’t sell this land for $2 because it’s landlocked or there’s poison on it or it’s an archaeological site so no one would want it. I can’t lease it … or a realtor determines that it’s valueless,'” he said. “They would have to show that they can’t make any money any other way through a permitted use on the property.”

2 – The alleged hardship relating to the property is unique.

“If there’s some kind of unique element to that property that doesn’t allow you (to use it), such as it’s all rock, and you can’t develop it for houses or to farm it or to mine it,” he said. “It’s just so unique that it’s a hardship.”

3 – The use that the applicant is requesting will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood.

“It’s wooded land, it’s farmland and there is some scrubland in there,” he said. “The only things that go on in that area is that people live there, people farm there and they hunt.”

4 – The alleged hardship has been self-created.

“In other words, ‘I inherited the property, I didn’t anticipate inheriting the property, I’m not a farmer, I’ve never been a farmer and I have no farm equipment, and a realtor said the property is worthless, so I can’t do anything with it,’” he said. “Even if that was the case here, you could potentially sell this land.”

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