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Town of Lewiston to hold public hearing on solar energy law

Fri, Dec 11th 2020 07:00 am

Changes include new provisions covering setbacks, screening of installations

Broderick encouraging input from residents on solar measure

By Terry Duffy

Editor-in-Chief

The Town of Lewiston will review changes to its proposed local law, covering solar energy systems installations in the town, at a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, at Town Hall.

“We’ve made some changes,” Supervisor Steve Broderick said of the local law the board would consider prior to its work session. The 14-page PDF is available for review on the town’s website, www.townoflewiston.us.

Broderick said modifications were made with regard to setbacks and screening covering solar installations. He explained no changes were made with respect to zoning considerations for utility-scale solar installations proposed in rural/agricultural areas of the town – an issue that has seen opposition from neighboring residents of such installations at past Town Board sessions.

In a findings review, elected leaders stated, “the Town Board finds a growing need to properly site all types of solar energy systems within the boundaries of the Town of Lewiston to protect residential, business areas and other land uses, to preserve the overall beauty, nature and character of the Town of Lewiston, to promote the effective and efficient use of solar energy resources, and to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of the Town of Lewiston.”

But it also observed, “Solar energy systems deplete land available for other uses, introduce industrial usage into other nonindustrial areas, and can pose environmental challenges and compete with other activities.” Additionally, “Solar energy systems need to be regulated from permitting through construction and ultimately for their removal when no longer utilized.”

The Town Board earlier instituted a moratorium on an existing local solar law following the residents’ opposition. Broderick said he was actually surprised at the public outcry.

“I myself doubted the kickback from solar, I expected it from wind, but not solar,” he said.

Recalling how the town drafted the first version of its solar law, he said Lewiston initially reviewed the solar ordinances approved earlier by communities such as Wheatfield and Cambria and then tightened various provisions of those measures in order to further protect town interests.

“We reviewed the local laws that were (already) very restrictive; we made them more restrictive. It was a good law,” Broderick said of the initial measure. “We held public hearings; nobody opposed it – so we passed it. Then came the opposition.”

In response, he said Town Board members, town attorneys, officials and Building Inspector Tim Masters went back to work, seeking to improve the measure.

“We then reviewed it further with respect to visual screening. Screening was a big issue from all the board members; we also changed the setbacks,” Broderick said. “We listened to the public, our committee members, our attorney,” in drafting this new version.”

So what is permitted?

•The measure allows for rooftop, building-mounted and building-integrated systems in all zoning districts throughout the town through a detailed building permit process. A number of provisions covering size, height, etc., are included.

•Ground-mounted systems are permitted as accessory structures, requiring site plan approval (unless restricted by zoning districts).

•Permitted town areas for both systems (rooftop/building-mounted, or ground-mounted) include: open space preservation and recreation districts; business districts; rural business districts; planned development districts when included; and all industrial districts. Also, one-family residence districts (R-1); rural residential transitional districts (RAT); rural residential districts (RR); two-family residence districts (R-2); transitional neighborhood development districts (TND); or publicly owned lots (PO). The latter being “only if the lot on which the ground-mounted solar energy system is situated is greater than two acres.”

•It provides for utility-scale solar energy systems in rural residential districts and in all industrial districts by special use permit. Solar installations equipped with electrical energy storage (battery systems) are only permitted for industrial districts.

•The law also contains a large number of provisions covering installation, operation and post-use criteria for the solar installations. Included are: placement/construction and major modifications of solar energy systems; general criteria applicable to building, roof-mounted or ground mounted systems; special use permit requirements for utility-scale solar energy systems; special use permit criteria (requirements); maintenance procedures for operating systems; and provisions covering obsolete systems/abandonment/removal and return to the former land use. Further details are found throughout the 14-page PDF.

The measure does not include any property or structures in the Village of Lewiston.

Broderick closed by encouraging town residents to provide their input on the proposed solar law.

Monday’s Town Hall hearing will be open to the public, but with limited seating, and COVID-19 safety protocols in place. The session will also be available online on Zoom via a Facebook Live link found on the town’s website, www.townoflewiston.us.

Broderick said public comment is welcomed and encouraged. Residents can review the document online beforehand and submit comments for entry into the official town record; they can attend the Town Hall session in person and preschedule their commentary; and they are also welcome to view the session via Zoom and submit their commentaries after via email.

“The Town Board wants to hear from residents,” Broderick said.

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