The Town of Batavia Planning Board on Tuesday night approved, with contingencies, special use permits and site plan reviews for a pair of 20-acre ground-mounted commercial solar systems on West Main Street Road.
The board voted in favor of the application by Borrego Solar Systems Inc. of Lowell, Mass., to build the solar farms on land owned by Fred Bowman and his sister, Mary Anne Forgie, at 3232 and 3104 W. Main Street Road.
The vote on the property at 3232 W. Main Street Road was unanimous for both the special use permit and site plan review, with the exception of an abstention by Donald Partridge.
Regarding the 3104 W. Main Street Road parcel, the vote was 5-1 on the special use permit with Jeremy Liles voting no and Partridge abstaining, and 6-0 on the site plan review with Partridge abstaining.
Partridge said he is looking to put a solar farm on his land and abstained because he thought it would be inappropriate for him to be voting on someone else’s project.
The other committee members who voted were Steve Tanner, Paul McCullough, Paul Marchese, Jonathan Long and Chairperson Kathy Jasinski.
“It’s time to take action; we’ve being doing this (particular project) for months and months,” Jasinski said.
During that time, the board was confronted with opposition to the application pertaining to 3104 W. Main Street Road, primarily from Michael and Joel Hamm of West Main Street Commons LLC, who own an L-shaped 33-acre parcel of property with its northern frontage at 3080 W. Main Street Road.
Their business, First Choice Travel, -- a two-story, 14,000-square-foot office building with ample parking -- is located on the property.
The Hamms, in a letter dated May 3, 2019 from their attorney, Alario & Fischer P.C., brought up several reasons why the solar farm should not be situated on land immediately south and east of their property, including:
-- A potential decrease in property values in a residential/light commercial area;
-- Environmental impact on existing land;
-- Placement of an access road between two residential properties;
-- Visual factors, such as glare, utility poles and wires.
The letter called for a complete visual analysis by the applicant (Borrego) and questioned the validity of the state environmental quality review (SEQR).
After attending the Town Planning Board meeting on May 7, the Hamms sent another letter via their attorney, acknowledging the board’s decision to require Borrego to provide a “visual impact analysis and visual simulations from various vantage points around the proposed property.”
However, they continued to challenge Borrego’s choice of the firm to conduct the analysis, questioning its expertise, and did not accept Borrego’s view that any adverse impact on the area would be “inconclusive” and the planners’ announcement that the SEQR has been completed. They asked that the board take more time to get the data needed to make a “thoughtful, informed decision.”
Neither Joel nor Michael Hamm was at Tuesday night’s meeting. Phone calls to both this morning were not returned by the posting of this story.
Last night’s approvals by the planning board for both the special use permits and site plan reviews do come with certain conditions.
For the special use permits, approval is subject to Genesee County providing fire training in connection with solar farms (coordinated through the East Pembroke Fire Department), making sure plantings and trees are placed to screen the solar farm from neighboring properties, and that conduits are buried properly.
Regarding the site plan reviews, approval is contingent upon obtaining a decommissioning bond and ensuring that engineers have final design approval.
Jasinski said that the board agreed to require enough plantings around the site, decreased the number of poles from five to three, and required that most of the wires (except those on the poles) are buried.
Steve Long, civil engineer for Borrego Solar, said his company “addressed the concerns of the board,” specifically providing the “visual analysis that the board asked for.”
Borrego has entered into a lease agreement with Bowman and Forgie, who said they feel they can “get more out of the land this way.”
Long said construction on the solar system could take place by the end of the year.
Batavia environmentalist Chris Krtanik was another interested observer at last night’s proceedings. He said he is “opposed generally” to these types of projects because they usually don’t benefit the average homeowner.
“I’d like to see tax subsidies for individual homeowners, not for (private enterprise),” he said. “That would be a more efficient way to taking dependency off the main (electric) grid.”
In other developments, planners did not address a site plan review for temporary vendor areas on the Batavia Starter property at 3282 W. Main Street Road since owner Phil Hinrich was not present, and delayed taking action on lead agency status for a proposed solar farm installation on Ellicott Street Road until after consultation with the town attorney.