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Town of Lewiston: New questions arise over Townline Road solar project

Fri, Jul 30th 2021 09:15 am

Resident raises matter of approved barn construction

By Terry Duffy


Monday’s regular meeting was a busy one for Lewiston Town Board members. Newsmakers included a planned state Department of Transportation improvement project for Hyde Park Boulevard; a favorable 2020 town audit report from Drescher Malecki LLP; Lewiston Police traffic concerns (see related story); and new questions arising over the Townline Road commercial-grade utility solar project by Saturn Power.

Focusing on the solar project that saw more than a few complaints lodged by residents at last month’s public hearing, Town Supervisor Steve Broderick reviewed one matter over a nearby National Fuel gas line as well as landscaping and coverage concerns voiced earlier

With regard to a National Fuel line as to its location, Broderick said he found no major concerns and went on to suggest placement of 10-foot trees bordering the project (versus an earlier 6-foot height proposed by the developer) to address the landscaping and coverage issues. He then directed the Town Board to begin the approval process with the Saturn Power developer toward declaring a negative declaration.

It was then that a Townline Road resident stepped in.

“Before you vote on that, I’d like to …” an unnamed woman said.

Before she could continue, Broderick said the project’s concerns were aired at last month’s public hearing. Still, the resident went on to cite an issue over a barn construction project already started, and of anticipated conflicts with the planned solar farm construction nearby. She said Attorney for the Town Alfonso Marra Bax was supposed to get back with her and that has yet to happen.

“You didn’t answer my question at the public hearing. A lawyer was supposed to get back with me, and no one ever got back. My barn is already started,” she said.

The board moved to approve the procedural negative dec. with Saturn Power without major comment. It then went on to hear the resident’s concerns.

“So I asked, what would happen with this project since my building permit was already approved to put the barn in. We already started,” the woman said. “Will they still have to move an existing distance back off our property to build their solar power, or will they be close, and we’ll have to go back into variance for this?”

Following some discussion among the board and Building Inspector Tim Masters, it was found the resident’s building permit for the barn was, in fact, approved earlier. Town officials then realized adjustments needed to be made.

“I’m not expecting there to be any additional inconveniences to you. But we’ll meet you halfway on your property, make sure we’ll get that all worked out,” Bax said.

“Well, what do I do? Do I continue building a barn? I don’t want my animals on top of a solar farm,” she said.

“Understood,” Bax replied. “We’ll talk to you right after this.”

On a question from Town Councilman John Jacoby on whether the resident’s concern would affect the just-approved negative dec., Bax said no. It was then found, after further discussion among members, the barn construction matter was brought up at the earlier Planning Board meeting.

“I remember listening to it,” Jacoby said. “I do seem to think that we had promised a response to her.”

“I’m not going to move my barn,” the woman replied to a question posed by Bax over location. “I’m not going to put my animals on top of a solar farm.”

Responding, Bax said, “There was a comment made at the public hearing about a barn. My assumption had been that, because it requires a permit, that those two (issues) had been engaged together, considering where her barn is in reference to the solar farm, and that they were addressed at the appropriate time.”

Masters said he felt all issues concerning setbacks and the barn construction were addressed at the earlier Planning Board session. “I guess the question that comes into play is that in the meantime from when this came to Planning and now the Town Board, which is quite a distance away, somebody comes in and does a barn in that setback. Is the burden now (on) the solar farm before their approval can move … or is the barn (already constructed) so they can’t?”

Turns out, the question over the actual distance found a 78-foot difference existed when factoring in the barn construction, the town learned.

Bax commented, “It would be indifferent to this solar application, because it (the barn application) would be an application that came after this was in the process to be approved.”

Following an executive session among town officials to discuss the matter, Broderick returned and stated, “We feel comfortable at this time moving forward in our decision.”

With that, the board went on to approve a revised Saturn Power site plan application with five requirements added. They include: submission of a fully funded decommissioning bond that is acceptable to the town attorney and engineer prior to issuing a building permit to remain in compliance with town solar codes; execution of an agreed-to PILOT agreement with Saturn Power and the town; that the solar project would be in compliance with Agriculture and Markets stipulations concerning solar energy construction on farms; and that it would include the landscape buffering of 10-foot trees on the screening area and a bee-friendly groundcover.

The resolution was then approved, and the matter closed.

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