The first round of public feedback to the proposed solar development on the Borden Home Farm property was universally negative on Thursday evening at the Shawangunk Town Board meeting, as the council held a public hearing on its proposed solar legislation. As written, the local law would not permit the 94-acre Borden solar farm to be built, as the bill limits large-scale solar sites to 20 acres in the municipality. But with the Geronimo Energy company asking for the law to be amended to allow for the Minnesota-based company to develop the Borden property, numerous town residents spoke out against the project during the Feb. 1 public hearing.
Borden Road resident Al Lawrence told the board that the proposed solar farm, which would take up 124 acres including fencing, would damage the character of the town. “As someone who bought an old home there and has put a lot into trying to fix it up, we admire the bucolic nature of the area and frankly hope it stays that way,” he said. Resident Jerry Mack, who lives next door to the proposed site of the solar farm project, is concerned about the effect the development would have on his property values. “My house value will absolutely go down,” he explained to the council. “They’re doing this to make money, but I’m going to lose money. Who’s going to compensate me? If I decide to live across from a humming farm, a crazy, huge ugly farm, I’m going to lose money.”
The public hearing on the solar law will remain open until the board’s meeting on March 1, and the town will continue to accept written comments from the public on the proposed law. The issue will not be on the agenda for the board’s next meeting on Feb. 15. “We’re looking at the Ulster County and Town Planning Board comments and some of the public comments,” Shawangunk Supervisor John Valk said. “We’ll decide if we want to add those and have the law in a different format on March 1. If it’s major, we have to re-hear it, but I don’t think there will be major changes.”
While the public conversation during the meeting often drifted towards the Borden project, Valk steered the discussion back to the law up for debate, which would be the first bill on the books for the town to regulate small- and large-scale panels. “This law was a long time being drafted,” Valk noted at the start of the public hearing. “Other communities around us have drafted laws and have had their second round to correct their problems. We took our time, and we hope we’ve done it right the first time. The law basically covers regulating small solar panels, like on rooftops or when people put them in their backyard. They’ll be allowed in all of the zones. Then the secondary part of the law is large-scale solar systems which generate electric that go back into the grid.”
Amy Grossman, the granddaughter of Max and Florence Donner, spoke on behalf of the Borden site owners, and was accompanied by legal representatives from the Young/Sommer law firm, as the group championed the proposed development. “My grandparents purchased the Borden Farm property over 50 years ago when I was a child, and since that time my family has tried responsibly to develop the site,” Grossman told the board. “Although my family lives in an adjacent county, we do feel a very strong connection to Wallkill’s interests and their well-being. We demonstrated this several years ago when we donated four acres of our property for the development of a new fire station. Tonight I am here with Geronimo Energy, who is proposing that they bring solar development. We have chosen a uniquely qualified developer for this site, and we appreciate the care and the detail, and their thoughtful approach to the development of the property. In the detailed concept plan that they will present to the board, Geronimo Energy will show that the project can be developed in a manner that is non-intrusive and minimally impactful to the character of Shawangunk.” Grossman added that the family has explored other development options at the farm, but the solar proposal is the least intrusive option they’ve come across.
The developers added that the project would include public benefits such as community trails, a dog park, a Girl Scout camp and more. But Valk told the group that the board would ultimately listen to the will of the public regarding the viability of the Borden project. “If the community doesn’t want it, it’s the authority of this board to set zoning for what our community wants and that’s what we’re elected for, to try and protect the community and preserve the community,” Valk noted during the meeting. “I’ve been involved in the town for 30 years now, and I did it for the love of the community. That’s why we work hard at what we do.”
Zoning Board member Roger Rascoe recommended to the board that they pass the solar law as currently written (with the 20-acre limit) during the Thursday meeting, but the council decided to keep the public hearing open for another month. Resident Debbie Mack told the board that as a neighbor of the Borden property her family would be negatively impacted by the development. “We would be visually affected and would be in close proximity of the panels,” she said. “I am opposed and would like to keep the law as it is now. I stand very firmly with my beliefs on the integrity of where we live. I love where we live, and it would be unfortunate to see these surroundings around us degraded.” Additional concerns were raised by the public about the impact the project could have on local wildlife.
The proposed solar law bars large solar developments in the Borden Historical Overlay District, a provision that seems to have healthy public support based on the comments made by residents during last week’s session. “It was very productive,” Valk said of the public hearing. “The public was very polite to each other. We heard some very good ideas. I wanted to keep it on track because this is about the solar law, not that project, and I think they (Borden project representatives) went out of here a little disappointed.”
By Ted Remsnyder