ROTTERDAM — The Town Board on Wednesday will hold a pair of public hearings on proposed local laws that would put a yearlong moratorium on solar arrays and regulate where marijuana dispensaries can be located in town.
Both hearings are expected to attract large crowds as lawmakers begin to weigh how to move forward with both ordinances, which are expected to be approved in the coming weeks.
Board member Evan Christou set into motion the proposed 12-month moratorium on solar arrays during a Town Board meeting last month where nearly a dozen residents urged lawmakers to put a hold on large-scale solar projects in order to update zoning regulations on the books since 2017.
The move comes as the town prepares to adopt a new comprehensive plan that calls for preserving forested land, and as East Light Partners, a Massachusetts-based solar company, prepares to seeks approval to construct a 20-megawatt solar array on a vacant 450-acre plot of land along Sandborn Road that would require clearcutting 150 acres of forest.
Lawmakers will vote to adopt the comprehensive plan and moratorium during the Dec. 14 Town Board meeting.
Many of the residents who urged the town to take action live in proximity of the proposed array and argued the project goes against the town’s goals in the updated comprehensive plan, and expressed concerns about their quality of life should the solar farm be built.
Others have raised concerns about how the array would be decommissioned years down the road, and questioned if clearing land to make way for the array was really beneficial for the environment.
But representatives from East Light Partners, who urged lawmakers last month not to move forward with the moratorium, argued the company’s proposal meets all the standards laid out in the current law, which already addressed a number of concerns raised by residents, including decommissioning.
The current town law pertaining to solar arrays includes provisions not to clear 30% of existing woodlands on a parcel, and requires solar arrays to be decommissioned if not in service for one year at the owner or operator’s expense.
The proposed project comes as the state works to meet its clean energy goals laid out in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 state law that laid the goal for curtailing the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions 85% of 1990 levels by 2050.
The law also requires that 70% of electricity generated in the state come from renewable sources by 2030.
Earlier this month, the town’s Planning Commission, in a 6-0 vote, issued a positive recommendation on the proposed law, citing an increase in large-scale solar projects and a need to further review the law in light of the town’s proposed updated comprehensive plan.
“The Planning Commission has been the scale of proposed solar farms/solar power plants increase substantially and the technology of solar energy projects change dramatically over the past few years, and the performance standards currently in place are in need of review and revision to keep pace with these changes,” the recommendation reads.
Supervisor Mollie Collins said this week she supports the moratorium, but noted she has no issue with green energy, but is concerned about ensuring the town’s current law meets is up to date and meets the changing landscape of solar arrays.
Collins said she’s particularly concerned about the decommissioning the arrays and how those costs would be covered in the future.
“I’m not against green energy whatsoever,” Collins said. “Moving forward, I think we have to do it to reduce our carbon footprint … but what we need to do is to make sure that when a solar farm comes in, that we have everything in place to make sure that in 10 years, or 15 years, or 20 years, when it has to be decommissioned that money has been put aside to pay for that.”
If the proposed solar moratorium is approved, Rotterdam would be the latest municipality to adopt such a law in recent years, joining nearby Canajoharie, Duanesburg and Glenville, which has since adopted new regulations.
Lawmakers are also set to hear from residents on another budding issue: the regulation of marijuana dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities.
The Town Board introduced a local law in October that would regulate the hours of operations and dictate where the businesses can be located.
The proposed legislation comes as the state inches closer to seeing the first legal marijuana sales from dispensaries following the passage of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, the 2020 law that legalized cannabis use for adults 21 and over.
In November, the state awarded the first cannabis retail licenses under the Conditional Adult-Use Dispensaries system, a program created to give those convicted of marijuana-related offenses the first opportunity to enter the retail market.
But the decision to allow dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities can be traced back to last year, when the previous Town Board allowed the businesses to move forward in hopes of generating new tax revenue instead of passing a local law opting out — a provision allowed for under the state law.
The law gave municipalities that opted out the ability to opt back in later, but does not allow those that allowed for dispensaries and on-site consumption facilities to opt out at a later date.
Hundreds of municipalities across the state choose to opt out as the state until the state released regulations, a move Collins said she would have liked to see the previous Town Board follow.
Collins said she is wary that tax revenue collected from the cannabis industry — which some projections say is slated to become a billion dollar industry in the years ahead — will prove beneficial, and fears that allowing the sales will lead to more problems that come at a greater cost than any potential revenue.
“I’m old enough to remember that when the lotto came in. I remember the government saying ‘you’ll never pay school taxes again. This will be a revenue stream for the entire state, and we’ll be able to fund our schools with this,'” Collins said. “I’m still paying school taxes.”
The proposed town law would limit dispensaries from operating in the town’s business and industrial zoning districts, and allow on-site consumption facilities to open only in parts of town zoned for industrial use. Both businesses would be required to obtain a special-use permit from the town’s Planning Commission.
Hours of operation for cannabis-related businesses would be limited to between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, under the proposed law.
Businesses would also have to prove they have adequate parking and pedestrian access, and must submit plans that show how odors would be contained on site. The businesses would be be permitted within 500 feet of a school and 250 feet of a house of worship, provisions that are laid out in the state law.
In a 6-1 vote last month, the Planning Commission voted to issue a positive recommendation on the proposed ordinance, with members agreeing to view the proposal as a living document that could be adjusted in the future.
Collins said she views the proposal the same way.
“I just want to make sure we do it in a responsible manner,” she said.
The Rotterdam Town Board is scheduled to meet Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall, 1100 Sunrise Blvd.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.
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1. I challenge Ms. Collins to show where the State ever said anything like ‘you’ll never pay school taxes again’. I’m that old too and it wasn’t said. What else is she hyperbolic about?
2. “…on another budding issue:…” Someone needs to provide bagels for the day for that one. ; )
Quality of life and “views” are relative to a person’s personal interests. Certainly clear-cutting a forest possibly should not be considered. But what is wrong with installing solar panels on farmland that has been unused for many years and planting landscapes to hide them? Why isn’t there this rage over the continued construction of those hideous cell phone towers every half mile that obstructs the “view” of the skyline? Oh of course. It’s so that people can have access to and keep their noses in their phones while driving and not paying attention to where they are going. Doesn’t that affect the quality of life?