TOWN OF AMSTERDAM — Residents are adamant that a developer’s application seeking a variance to construct a community solar project in a residential zone must be rejected.
Amp Solar Development is seeking a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals to construct a 5-megawatt community solar project on “abandoned” farmland at 260 Truax Road. The project would cover approximately 25 acres out of the existing 58.4-acre parcel.
Amp Director of Development Terence Rasmussen on Wednesday argued the variance should be granted in part because project planning had been ongoing for two years before the Town Board implemented a moratorium on new solar projects last spring to revise related regulations.
“We started this project in 2019 when we acquired an interest in the land, we started interconnection studies in 2020 and were preparing our application to the town in March of 2021 when the moratorium was put in place,” Rasmussen said.
Amendments to zoning regulations limiting utility-scale solar projects to the commercial and mixed-use manufacturing zoning districts were adopted in September. The regulations banned projects in residential and agricultural zones. The Truax Road site is in a residential zone.
Amp was originally planning another project on a 96-acre property on Knickerbocker Heights neighboring the Truax Road location. Site constraints have caused the developer to hold of for now from moving forward with an application for that additional project, but Rasmussen disclosed it may be pursued in the future.
For the ZBA to approve a variance, applicants must demonstrate:
- The alleged hardship from regulations they are seeking relief from are not self-created
- A reasonable return on investment cannot be realized under approved zoning uses
- The hardship is unique to the property
- The proposed use would not alter the character of the neighborhood
Rasmussen argued the application meets all of the required thresholds.
The few approved uses for the site would result in a net loss for the property owners over the next 10 years whereas the community solar project would generate an estimated $132,423 in revenue over that period, according to calculations from a consultant hired by Amp.
The marginal land with transmission lines running down the center of the parcel has poor road access utilities creating unique circumstances and existing vegetation around the site provides ample screening that would prevent the project from impacting the character of the neighborhood, Rasmussen said.
Residents made clear their disagreement with the developer’s assessment and urged the ZBA to reject the application during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Attorney Ryan Pezzulo, representing neighboring property owners Thomas and Melanie Coman, argued the application does not meet any of the qualifications needed to grant a variance.
“The financial analysis simply proposes that this would be the most profitable use of the land, but that is not what this board is here to determine,” Pezzulo said.
Peter Bennice argued the project would only benefit the property owners while diminishing the town’s natural landscape. He added that granting the variance could attract other developers to try to get around the town’s regulations.
“I have a feeling that as we keep going into this solar stuff, it’s definitely going to open a can of worms,” Bennice said. “Everybody is going to want to do an appeal.”
Susan Rossi expressed concern that any tree removal to support the project coupled with the installation of solar panels could exacerbate stormwater runoff issues on Truax Road to the detriment of the surrounding properties.
“Truax Road washed out completely in a torrential rainstorm one year where the road was closed off for months before it had to be repaired. Every time it rains water pours down Truax Road and washes out at the bottom. If I were one of the homeowners along the bottom of that hill I would be extremely concerned about how those panels are going to redesignate that water,” Rossi said.
Although existing trees might provide screening while in bloom, Charles Rossi said the site would be visible after the leaves fall and expressed concern about the impact of the project on property values to his and other nearby homes.
Only one resident, Christopher Ferlazzo, expressed support for the application, saying the relatively secluded property would be an ideal location to host a solar project.
“It may affect other people, they enjoy the beauty of that land. They don’t own that land. The person that owns that land should have more to say about it,” Ferlazzo said.
After opening the review of the variance application for the first time on Wednesday, the only actions taken by the ZBA were to refer the submission to Montgomery County for required review and schedule a public hearing for the next meeting on March 9 at 6:45 p.m.
Town Attorney Charles Schwartz indicated several additional referrals to local and state agencies will be required as part of the multi-step process to review the application over the coming months before the ZBA makes a final decision.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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