The parking lot at Gardiner’s town hall was full when on the evening of August 9 the town board held a public hearing on a proposal to impose a nine-month moratorium on the issuance of permits for the installation of ground-mounted solar-energy-generating facilities. Dozens of Gardinerites and non-residents alike turned out to voice disapproval for the delay, which in practical terms only impacts one applicant at present: Anthony Sicari, Jr.’s Gardiner-based company, New York Solar Farm. Sicari’s company has proposed to build a solar array on land that it owns on Route 44/55 – the site of the former Widmark honey farm – to generate power that could in turn be sold back to community residents at prices below prevailing Central Hudson utility rates.
The moratorium was proposed by town supervisor Marybeth Majestic at the behest of the town’s planning board, whose members have expressed a lack of confidence in their ability to conduct site-plan reviews on proposed solar farms without more guidance from local zoning law. The town’s zoning code does not at present include language specifically governing parameters such as property-line setbacks for commercial solar arrays. The local law for the moratorium cites concerns about possible “detrimental effects” from solar farms, including adverse visual impacts, agricultural implications and property values.
“This is not about whether solar’s good or not,” said Warren Wiegand, a former Gardiner councilman who now serves on the planning board. “It’s about figuring out what the ground rules are .… What do we have to do to determine if this project is consistent?”
“I see a need to have rules,” agreed Gardiner resident and regular meeting attendee Jack Habersberger. “This project may be perfectly all right and acceptable, but what about the next project?”
The overwhelming majority of the public in attendance protested the nine-month term of the moratorium as being far longer than necessary to codify some rules governing solar installations. At least three persons specifically mentioned their inability to install their own home solar collectors due to overhanging foliage from trees growing on neighbors’ properties and expressed eagerness to be able to buy cheap solar power from a local provider.
Also in attendance were colleagues of Sicari in the solar-generating industry, some of whom had traveled from as far away as New Jersey and Plattsburgh to speak on behalf of a speedy resolution to the regulatory bottleneck. “Nine months is a staggering amount of time,” argued veteran solar developer Aaron Adams, one of several who offered the town assistance in quickly identifying best practices and comparable municipal ordinances already in effect around the country.
Speaking on behalf of Sustainable Hudson Valley’s Solarize the Hudson Valley project, John Wackman offered the not-for-profit organization’s endorsement for the NY Solar Farm proposal as well as information to help with tweaking the zoning code.
The Sicari family and its attorney, Mike Moriello, were also on hand to attest to the long-term investment of time and money that the company has already sunk into the proposal over the past six years. They urged that there be no further delays.
“I never looked for an agricultural exemption or any shortcuts,” Anthony Sicari, Sr. pleaded. “I’m concerned that by the time a decision is made, another company may take this opportunity.”
Moriello noted that he had already sent the town model texts of zoning laws governing comparable solar projects from towns like Rhinebeck and Red Hook. “Please do the right thing and allow us to continue to work,” the attorney said, noting that projects like that proposed by NY Solar Farm “save residents thousands on their utility bills.”
Saying that the need to draft regulatory language was not limited to any particular solar proposal, Majestic walked the town board through a number of questions on the short-form Environmental Impact Statement for the moratorium law before extending the public hearing until the next meeting in September. “If progress is made in a shorter time, the moratorium could be lifted” in less than 90 days, she noted.