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By Lauren Zaepfel
A public hearing on a proposed law to regulate the location and features of solar-energy systems within the Town of Wheatfield was held Monday night at Town Hall.
The law was put together by the town's Energy Application Focus Group under the Comprehensive Planning Implementation Task Force after officials received inquiries on the town's regulations on the installation and usage of solar structures.
"Early this year, I heard that landowners were being approached by solar companies to put large solar arrays on their land, essentially farming sunlight instead of crops," Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said. "When I went to look at our town law regarding solar collectors, we virtually had nothing in our law."
He added, "We don't want to stop people from the valuable uses that solar collection offers. What we do want is that solar collection projects enhance rather than take away from the character of our town."
Drew Reilly, Wendel engineer representing the town's Energy Application Focus Group, said,
"Almost every community in New York state is adopting a law like this because of the changes in energy and solar units."
The proposed law states only a building permit would be required for both rooftop and systems integrated, or built, into the materials of the building. These structures would be allowed in any zoning district of the town.
Roof-mounted systems would be limited to no more than 3 feet in height above an existing rooftop as well as be required to meet all fire prevention and building codes.
However, ground-mounted systems, considered an accessory structure, would be required to meet more restrictions as well as site plan approval through the town's Planning Board.
On residential-zoned properties, the current proposed law states, ground-mounted systems would be allowed on a lot greater than 20,000 square feet. However, it might be decreased to 16,000 square feet, Reilly said.
Also, the law will likely be amended stating ground-mounted systems will not be permitted to exceed 1,200 square feet of property in residential areas or 15,000 square feet in all other zoning districts.
The ground-mounted systems would be limited to a height of 10 feet in residential areas and 15 feet in all other districts. "You can only have them in the side or rear lot," Reilly said. "You can't put a ground-mounted system out in the front of your house."
Also, the setback criteria for the ground-mounted systems from a neighboring property line would be double the principal building requirement amount. Reilly said most of the town's zoning districts require a 10-foot setback, which would make a 20-foot setback requirement for the ground-mounted system.
The proposed law states both ground and roof-mounted systems are designed and intended to generate electricity primarily for the use of the single property, potentially for multiple tenants, through a distribution system that is not available to the general public.
Utility-scale solar energy systems, also addressed in the proposed law, are intended to supply energy to a utility grid for sale to the general public.
These utility-scale systems, like ground-mounted systems, would also require site plan approval from the Planning Board, including a special use permit.
These systems would be maximum 20 feet in height and would only be allowed on lots zoned A-R (agricultural-residential), M-1 and M-2 (industrial districts). They would also only be allowed on properties of at least five acres in size, while being located a minimum of 100 feet from neighboring property lines, 250 feet from a neighbor's building or structure and 500 feet from any home, park or school.
Cliffe encouraged residents to provide comment or ask questions regarding the proposed law. "I hope that we can make any final adjustments to the law and put it in place at the Dec.19 meeting," he said. "This will allow time for landowners and solar businesses time to review the law and work on projects for building in 2017, designing to the requirements of the solar law."
The entire 13-page proposed law has been posted on the town's website at http://wheatfield.ny.us/DocumentCenter/View/1470.
In other news
The Town Board approved a new law for conservation, or cluster, subdivision developments, which feature smaller lot sizes and more preserved land and green space around a property's infrastructure.
The law, worked on for over a year by the town's Greenspace Focus Group, concentrates on conserving land, as well as how the layout of a new cluster subdivision would affect the surrounding area.
The town will be able to evaluate a cluster subdivision layout and provide developmental requirements, such as preserving natural assets including scenic views, natural landscape features, woodlands and other environmental assets.
The law states cluster subdivision plans must set aside at least 40 percent for common use or as open undeveloped land space, not including lands determined to be "unusable," such as wetlands, stormwater ponds and other restricted land.
To view a copy of the entire law, visit http://wheatfield.ny.us/DocumentCenter/View/1469.