By Lauren Zaepfel
Wheatfield extended its solar power moratorium by three months on Monday after residents and local officials heard from planning consultant Andrew C. Reilly, who suggested fewer restrictions to a recently proposed solar panel law for the town.
The first major change in the law was to allow ground-mounted systems, under a certain size corresponding to zoning districts, to only require a building permit instead of Planning Board approval.
The proposed law suggests ground-mounted systems under 750 square feet, on residential property, should only require a building permit. Anything larger in size, Reilly said, would require site plan approval through the town's Planning Board, because it would be a "nonstandard" accessory structure.
Reilly also suggested the required setbacks of the solar panel systems from adjoining property lines should be the same as those for accessory structures.
"This (ground-mounted solar panel system) is like an accessory structure," Reilly said. "It's like someone putting a garage out in back of their site. We allow those by building permits."
For example, if a resident wanted to install a garage (an accessory structure) in his backyard, the required set back would be 5 feet.
"If I can put a garage 5 feet or 10 feet off the property (line), why can't I put a solar array?" Reilly asked.
The second main change to the proposed law involved removing limits to the size of utility-grade solar panel systems - as well as allowing them in rural residential zoned districts in addition to areas zoned agricultural-residential and industrial, as the law previously suggested.
These districts, Reilly said, represent approximately 60-70 percent of the town.
Overall, Reilly said the board would have to make the decisions on whether to have these changes made to the proposed law before approving it.
The board agreed to schedule another public hearing on the proposed law for 7:15 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23.
In other news:
•The town's water rates are increasing by 10 cents per 1,000 gallons of usage for 2017. The increase will bring the cost of water from $1.80 per 1,000 gallons to $1.90 per 1,000 gallons. The minimum water bill in the town will be $19.95.
Water and sewer Superintendent Richard Donner said the cost is increasing for multiple reasons, including keeping up with the rising costs of updating equipment and making infrastructure repairs.
"A number of our hydrants are in the 60-year-old range," Donner said. "(When) getting parts for them and replacing them, sometimes we're better off replacing the whole hydrant versus fixing it."
•The board scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, to decide if the town should apply for a state community development block grant for a brewery and brew pub at 6929 Williams Road.