Comprehensive Plan Committee members presented a summary of their recommendations for a consultant to the Woodstock Town Board on December 13, giving Councilman Jay Wenk one more opportunity to grill them on why they didn’t follow his own recommendation, that they choose an all-volunteer group to update the document.
Committee members Sasha Gillman and Kirk Ritchey recapped for the reason why the panel recommended Saratoga Springs and New City-based Behan Planning and Design. “It was a unanimous consensus it could not be done in-house as efficiently,” said Gillman. Two of the four submissions were ruled out because they seemed to be “predicated on larger communities,” she said.
“We agreed on everything unanimously,” said committee member Kirk Ritchey, explaining the panel submitted questions to the applicants and received responses from “some, not all.” Ritchey said Behan was chosen because it “had a good grasp of the task at hand” and was aware that the process requires community involvement to be successful.
Though price was not part of the committee’s consideration, Behan also submitted the lowest bid of $65,285.
A Comprehensive Plan serves as a guide for town infrastructure, planning and development needs. Woodstock’s, known colloquially at the Brown and Anthony plan, for the firm that wrote it, was adopted in 1962, but has not been officially updated, despite several attempts. To be eligible for state funding, Comprehensive Plan consultants must be chosen by a committee of those who were not elected to town office.
Wenk criticized the committee for voting against a volunteer effort at its first meeting, reiterating an argument he has made that they never gave it full consideration. He believes that a volunteer effort would not cost the taxpayers anything.
“We realized the complexity of what they were trying to do,” Gillman countered. “We felt it would be much better in the hands of professional planners.”
Ritchey said the four professional submissions were in response to a public request and Wenk was trying to engage the committee after proposals were submitted. He said Wenk didn’t have anything concrete to show the committee. “There was no documentation,” Ritchey said. “What were you going to do? There was nothing to weigh it against.”
Gillman said in her experience, professionals are needed. “I have been a part of every volunteer group that has been in existence for the last umpteen years,” she said, adding volunteers don’t always have the depth of knowledge needed.
Wenk said he went to the committee’s second meeting to provide more information about the volunteer group and was told that option was already eliminated. “There was no interest in your committee to inquire what a free group was willing to do,” Wenk said.
In October, Wenk had pushed to the Town Board the idea of a volunteer group, announcing they had already met with him a few times to share ideas. The board decided they would only entertain his group’s proposals after the committee had done its work and made a recommendation.
Wenk hasn’t yet formulated a proposal, but he did give the board a survey he hopes can be distributed to residents and businesses. Wenk was asked to come back next week to the board’s business meeting with more information about his group’s next steps.
Some questions on Wenk’s survey included whether people would support an increase in growth, if people favor more construction along the Route 212 corridor, concerns about traffic congestion, keeping the police force or having the Sheriff’s Office take over its duties, extending cell phone service and creating pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.
“You’ve got a good start,” said Councilwoman Laura Ricci of the survey, suggesting professionals have a look at it before it is distributed. She wanted to avoid having townspeople surveyed twice — first by Wenk’s questionnaire, then by consultants.
“I so admire you for sticking to your guns, for working so hard. I will wait until next week, but I still think we need a professional,” Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli said.
Solar array stuck in limbo
Central Hudson’s interpretation of public utility law has put the town’s 600 kilowatt solar array on hold indefinitely.
Woodstock signed a power purchase agreement, or PPA, with IGS Solar of Dublin, Ohio, which would build and maintain the array. In a PPA, a third party owns and maintains the equipment, then sells the electricity back to the customer. Municipalities are not eligible for the same solar energy incentives as businesses and residents, so a PPA is used as a workaround. The company that owns the solar array receives the incentives, then can pass the savings along in the form of lower rates for the electricity. A PPA also minimizes risk, since the operator assumes construction and maintenance costs.
The issue is that Central Hudson asserts Woodstock is neither the owner nor the operator, and therefore is not eligible for a key aspect of the project called remote net metering, according to former Councilman Ken Panza, who now serves as Woodstock’s liaison to the Ulster County Climate Smart Committee.
Net metering allows a solar array to connect to the grid through an electric meter. If the array generates more electricity than is used, the excess is supplied to the grid and a credit is issued. If more electricity is needed, it is supplied from the grid, according to the New York Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA.
Remote net metering allows the credits or debits to be spread across multiple utility accounts, such as those maintained by the town.
Panza said the town could either file a complaint against Central Hudson or work around the issue by building smaller independent arrays. For example, the sewage treatment plant and water department could have their own separate panels.