The Lloyd Town Board revised and passed a new solar law that does not allow solar farms to be constructed in residential zones in town. Last year’s version of the law did permit these projects in residential areas but in the face of significant public criticism, and advocacy by Councilman Joe Mazzetti, the board removed this provision in their revised law. This matter came to the forefront after Wingate Solar/Cypress Creek Renewables proposed a large-scale solar farm in the residential area off Perkinsville Road.
Town attorney Sean Murphy highlighted the changes that were incorporated into the new law, noting that large scale solar systems are permitted with a special use permit in the Agricultural, Heavy Industrial, Light Industrial, Designed Business and General Business zoning districts. The Ulster County Planning Board [UCPB] concurred with the town on allowing large scale solar projects only in these districts.
In addition, the new law states that all large scale solar farms must have six-foot high fencing and that the “entire system of arrays and secondary equipment shall be situated and screened so as not to be visible from streets, public ways and all neighboring properties, to the greatest extent possible.” Again the UCPB agreed with the town on these points.
An applicant must also submit a visual impact analysis and shall avoid, to the greatest extent practicable, construction on areas of prime farmland for large scale solar energy systems.
Anne Waling, Zoning Outreach Manager for Cypress Creek, failed to persuade the board to exempt their solar project from the new law nor did her argument that removing residential areas would in effect ban all solar projects in the Town of Lloyd.
Project attorney Doug Warden, of Snyder & Snyder, pointed out that Wingate Solar/Cypress Creek has been working “hand in hand” with the Planning Board for nearly a year and to date has invested approximately $165,000 in engineering and planning costs, surveying, escrow and application fees and made six revisions to their application “based on comments from the Planning Board and visual analysis.”
“We believe in the basic principles of fairness dictate that we be permitted to proceed with the application under the solar ordinance as it existed when we submitted our application,” attorney Warden said, basing his argument on the commonly accepted Vested Rights Doctrine in land development.
Warden, however, failed to point out that when applying these rules, courts and regulatory agencies often seek to balance a developer’s rights with a municipality’s land use plans and regulations.
Warden said if the town adopts the newly revised solar law “then Wingate Solar becomes a cautionary tale for future developers…whose moral is that the Town of Lloyd is not open for business, is a difficult and unfriendly place to do business and whose sands are constantly shifting…I can tell you that uncertainty is the one thing that future business partners and particularly developers are scared of.”
Rich Kirkland, of Kirkland Appraisers in Raleigh, North Carolina, was hired by the developer to highlight appraisal data and trends and the impacts on area homes that are near solar projects. He said he has found that homes near solar projects sell within the average time frame and at comparative market rates for their areas. When asked Kirkland said he has not walked the area of the proposed project in Lloyd.
Before the vote on the solar law, town attorney Murphy said the proper legal procedures were followed and all of the Councilpersons had the chance to review the wording in the law. The Town Board voted unanimously to approve the new solar law that specifically prohibits large scale solar projects from being constructed in residential areas.
By Mark Reynolds