By Lauren Zaepfel
The Wheatfield Town Board voted Monday to hold a public hearing regarding the implementation of a six-month moratorium on the installation and possession of ground-mounted solar panels in the town at 7 p.m. Monday, May 16, in Town Hall.
The newly formed Energy Application Focus Group under the town's Comprehensive Planning Implementation Task Force, recommended the town adopt the moratorium, which would specifically be on the processing, permitting and/or construction of ground-mounted solar panels and solar farms. Solar farms can consist of several of these solar panels in one area.
"Nothing in the motion stops you from putting solar on your roof, on your barn roof, on your sun roof," Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said. "These are for standalone units or solar farms, if you will; large farms."
The moratorium would provide time for the focus group to research and draft any possible amendments to the town code, as well as the adoption of these amendments by the board.
The amendments would focus where the ground-mounted solar panels and solar farms will be permitted, set design and structural regulations and any other factors that may affect the health, safety and wellness of residents.
"Basically, we have no law when it comes to solar power," Cliffe said. "We have nothing on the books. We have no controls of any kind and we think that that's not really appropriate."
He added, "We would like to find out what is appropriate for Wheatfield."
"The law hasn't caught up completely to the technology, so the energy focus group wants to try to update that," Wheatfield Town Attorney Matthew E. Brooks said after the meeting.
The group will look into ground-mounted solar panel regulations both for residential and commercial farm use.
Brooks said some residents might find the structures "not aesthetically pleasing," if their neighbors decided to install them beside their homes. He also said there could be issues with glare, which need to be considered as well.
Cliffe said Town Board members, as well as businesses in the town, have received several inquiries on the town's regulations on the installation and usage of these solar structures.
He said he would like to move on the moratorium "So we can get some rules on the books before we're inundated."
In other news:
•The board approved a 30-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the not-for-profit, charitable corporation Vincent Properties Inc. for its proposed Wheatfield Commons senior memory care housing apartments on Forest Parkway.
The tax-exempt company will provide 60 housing units for seniors with memory care needs.
The corporation, in good faith, offered to pay $12,000 to the town in its first year at the April 4 town board meeting. Councilman Gilbert Doucet, however, requested an additional $2,000 be given for each of the town's five fire companies to serve as a form of compensation for the increased calls they will likely receive from the facility.
In response, at Monday's board meeting, attorney Michael Piette, representing Vincent Properties, presented the board with the company's proposal of adding $2,000 a year, making the first year's payment $14,000, with a 2 percent annual increase.
Therefore, the fire companies could potentially receive $400 each, instead of the requested $2,000. The Town Board would take the $2,000 and disperse it.
"These guys pick people up off the floor all the time for you and risk their backs and everything; they're there all the time," Doucet said. "Four hundred's not even going to hardly give them a months' worth of supplies for running to your place. In my opinion, it's a little bit of a slap in the face."
Piette reminded the board that, because the company is tax-exempt, "this is in addition to the special district taxes that are charged. It's in addition to what would normally be required."
Deputy Supervisor Larry L. Helwig asked, "If we, as a Town Board, do not approve this tonight, or in the future, what is your organization going to do?"
"My expectation is that they would apply for their exemption," Piette said.
He added, "It's giving you PILOT payments that you would not otherwise receive taxes from this entity because it's a tax-exempt entity."
"So in the end, if we say 'no,' we get nothing. If we say 'yes,' we end up with roughly half a million dollars," Cliffe said.
In the end, the board voted to approve the request 3-1, with Doucet voting as opposed.
•Helwig informed residents he received an email Monday from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding the Pennsylvania and Wheatfield portions of National Fuel's Northern Access Pipeline Project. He said FERC stated it would issue an environmental assessment on July 27 and a 90-day authorization decision deadline on Oct. 25.
"So it sounds like around Oct. 25 they will give their approval," Helwig said.
•Wendel engineer Tim Zuber said the Wheatfield Planning Board issued a negative declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act for the Niagara International Sports and Entertainment Complex during a site plan review April 6.The Planning Board reminded the applicants of outstanding requests for the site plan, including a revised approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, new height variances for the proposed twin domes and the inclusion of comments from the Fire Advisory Board and an engineering review. No other action was taken.