Several residents of Galloway and Lewiston roads in the Town of Batavia spoke out tonight against a plan to build a 19.8-acre, 4-megawatt ground-mounted solar system at 3565 Galloway Road, citing potential adverse effects on the environment, property values and the aesthetic benefits of rural living.
Bright Oak Solar LLC is proposing to place the solar panels on property in an Agricultural-Residential district owned by Wayne Dunham.
His neighbors who commented at a public hearing, attended by about 30 people prior to the Batavia Town Planning Board’s meeting at the Town Hall, didn’t see it as such a bright idea.
“It will be in my backyard and I’ll have to look at it,” said Brandon Miller, of Lewiston Road, who added that he would be hampered in a bid to sell his home. “It is right in the middle of almost two roads like that (with many houses). It’s ridiculous.”
Miller’s words were the first in a half-hour’s worth of remarks pointed at Tom Healy, project manager for Prowind Inc., the developer, and Daniel Yanosh, project manager with Hunt engineering out of Rochester.
Yanosh explained that the solar system would be placed on the southern part of Dunham’s property, facing Galloway Road (see diagram), with the land to the north remaining as agricultural acreage.
He said that a gravel access road would be installed, that the solar farm would be surrounded by a 7-foot chain link fence and that part of it would be screened by plantings and trees. He added that the plan calls for five utility poles (but planners later requested that number be reduced to three or four).
“The grading goes up and falls off, so you’re not going to see much of it from across the road,” Yanosh said. “It’s 300 feet off the road and with the natural topography, there will be minimal visual impacts.”
Mike Hall, who lives on Galloway Road, asked if developers considered moving it back further from Galloway, if an environmental impact statement had been done and who is going to benefit from this.
“Are we going to see any benefit from this? Where is the electricity going and who benefits from it?” he said.
Healey responded that developers strive to minimize the distance from the connection point (in this instance, on Galloway Road) and will be upgrading an existing gas track that runs from the road through the middle of the solar panel array.
“As far as who benefits, energy is exported to National Grid, and the state has a community solar (program), which offers a discount on your energy bill (to those who opt in to the program),” he said.
Linda Fox, of Lewiston Road, said she sees the solar farm as a disruption to her enjoyment of wildlife in the area.
“I’m totally against that,” she said. “I look outside and see deer, all kinds of animals … chipmunks, birds, everything you can think of. If he decides to do this, we might as well sell the house and go.”
Healey countered by saying that the project is at its maximum capacity, which is correct due to Town code restrictions.
But Hall said he wasn’t convinced of its value.
“Maybe in the future we could see some benefit from it, but I am concerned about the environmental impact. I’ve seen these things all over the United States, and they’re really ugly.”
Planning Board Chair Kathy Jasinski then noted that the board is charged with conducting a State Environmental Quality Review -- gathering information from the town engineer, project engineer, zoning officials and staff to make an informed decision.
Miller brought up the solar farm’s effect on property values. When asked if it was going to drop, Jasinski advised him to talk to his assessor, but also noted that there isn’t enough data in this area to make an accurate determination.
Hall, stating out loud that this is “probably a done deal,” said any impact upon assessments should be considered before approval of projects such as these.
Galloway Road resident Sonja Armbrewster requested that the developers add screening on the southeast portion of the system, which is near her property.
“It’s just off my backyard and all I will see is a bunch of solar panels,” she said. “Now, we’re able to look at deer and nature.”
Moments later, she too asked about the impact on property values, stating “these people are making a lot of money. Who is going to reimburse us?”
Tim Call, of Galloway Road, asked Yanosh about the construction involved.
“We drive piles into the ground. We’re not running concrete trucks like crazy and it’s a stone base,” Yanosh said. “There will be some deliveries but once it’s done, there will be only two or three trips per year. And when it’s decommissioned (put out of service in 25 years), it's back to farm land.”
Responding to a question from Hall about possible flooding, Yanosh said grass, pollinators and clover will be planted.
“This will provide a lot more vegetative uptake and slow that rush of water quite a bit,” he said. “That’s a benefit for the stormwater aspect.”
After all comments were heard, the board declared lead agency status for the SEQR, approving a negative declaration (no serious environmental impacts) but stopped short of voting on the special use permit and site plan.
Instead, acting on board Member Steve Tanner’s request, they asked Yanosh and Healy to come back to the Oct. 1st meeting armed with another visual assessment of the land, taking into account the calls for additional screening, reduction of the number of utility poles, decommissioning bond details and other information requested by the town engineer.
Upon exiting, Yanosh said they will add more trees to the southeast side.
In other action, the board asked representatives of Borrego Solar Systems LLC to provide more information as to how their plan to construct two 20-acre, 7.2-megawatt ground solar systems at 8050 Oak Orchard Road (Route 98) does not run contrary to the parameters set forth by the Town in connection to 600 acres earmarked as a Planned Business Development District.
Borrego is hoping to place the solar farm on land owned by Eric Saile, located north of the NYS Thruway interchange.
The board was looking to declare lead agency status for the SEQR review, but put that on hold after Town Engineer Steve Mountain brought up several points – farmland protection, archeological study, zoning inconsistencies – that need to be cleared up.
According to requirements of the PBD District, the minimum development size is 100 acres. This was set up by the Town to ensure large-scale commercial development that would benefit the municipality, preserve the agricultural land and avoid piecemeal projects that could hinder future marketability of the parcel.
Marc Kenward, senior engineer with Erdman Anthony, and Emilie Flanagan, project developer for Borrego, contended that their project is in line with Town code in that solar farms are allowed in all zoning districts by a special use permit and also is of a “temporary nature” in that the solar farm would be decommissioned in 25 years.
“I can see that a lot of commercial developments could come from this,” Flanagan said. “As we read it, the plan meets every detail of the (Town’s) Comprehensive Plan.”
Mountain acknowledged that since this is the first project submitted for the PBDD, it is “very unique” and could be open to interpretation. He urged the developer to take the time to provide more information, detailing how the plan fits in.
Flanagan agreed that more dialogue is needed and proposed a meeting with Town officials before presenting the new information at the board’s next meeting on Oct. 1.
Previously, the Genesee County Planning Board recommended disapproval of a special use permit and area variance based on the PBD District guidelines.
The matter will have to be addressed, once again, by the Town Zoning Board of Appeals, which doesn’t meet again until Oct. 21.
Unlike what transpired with the solar project on Galloway Road, no one spoke at a public hearing on this project prior to the board meeting.
Photos: Mike Hall, white shirt in center, makes a point during a public hearing tonight about a proposed solar farm on Galloway Road. Looking on are developers Tom Healy, left, and Dan Yanosh and Town Building Inspector Dan Lang (in orange shirt). Diagram shows Galloway Road at bottom and Lewiston Road diagonally. Photos by Mike Pettinella.