For the second time since the Town of Gardiner added a “solar law” to its zoning code in 2017, a developer has come before the Planning Board with a site plan application for a large-scale photovoltaic generating system. “You’re our second solar project. The first one fell apart,” Planning Board chair Paul Colucci told representatives of the applicant, Lumens Holdings 3, LLC, last week.
The proposed solar farm, intended to generate two megawatts of AC power, would be built at 262 Libertyville Road, located right at the Gardiner/New Paltz town line, just south of the Field of Dreams property. According to the application, “The solar equipment and associated features will be placed on roughly 7.3 acres of land on the above-referenced location/parcel.”
However, the parcel in question — a flag lot owned by Steven Sparaco — comprises 49.1 acres, which far exceeds the 20-acre maximum lot size imposed by the new solar law. Moreover, the footprint of the solar array as shown on the developers’ site plan approaches the property boundary on its northeastern side by only 65 feet, when the solar law specifies a minimum of 150 feet. Both deviations would require variances from Gardiner’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
“You should go to the ZBA first,” Planning Board member Keith Libolt advised the applicants, noting the lengthy “public vetting process” that went into the formulation of the new zoning guidelines for solar farms. “They may not want to give variances on the first time out. It looks like you’ve got plenty of land where you could move this around.” “They’re not as friendly as we are,” Colucci quipped.
“The property-owner desires to have it as far north as possible,” said Peter McAuliffe, a project manager at Omni Navitas Solar Energy Development, a Boston-based company that is leasing the parcel from Sparaco. Omni Navitas has made a specialty of mounting solar arrays atop parking lots and garages, mostly in Massachusetts — although in the model proposed for Libertyville Road, the collectors would be affixed to a system of racks set six-and-a-half feet above ground level, too low for cars. McAuliffe added that the solar development partnership “chose the site because of the existing tree line, so that it would have minimal visual impact and require minimal tree-clearing.” “We’re looking to minimize any other environmental impact,” agreed Christopher Knox, representing Lumens Holdings.
At the meeting, town consultant Mark Millspaugh of Sterling Environmental Engineering, PC walked the Planning Board through his review of the application forms, declaring them incomplete. He noted that the area in question is categorized as archaeologically sensitive by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, advising that State Historical Preservation Office clearance would be needed. Among the other deficiencies identified by Millspaugh were a site-specific Wildlife Management Plan addressing “species of concern”; approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers for a gravel road planned to cross a federally designated wetland; and the amount of a bond to be posted to finance a decommissioning plan, should the project be abandoned.
Knox noted that the developers planned to utilize an existing access road “to avoid disturbance to the wetland,” but Millspaugh questioned whether the 48-inch culvert already in place would be adequate for the passage of heavy vehicles, including cement trucks, during the construction phase. While the solar array racks would be mounted on driven pilings, the infrastructure would also require transformers mounted on concrete pads, according to Knox.
The applicants agreed to address the deficiencies cited and resubmit their site plan and other forms. Colucci said that once all materials were in place, he would schedule an “informal” workshop meeting devoted specifically to review this application and “check for completeness…so we don’t have to keep dragging you in here.” After that, the next steps would be for the Planning Board to declare itself lead agency at a regular meeting and then proceed with State Environmental Quality Review. The chairman assured a concerned audience member that “There will be numerous public hearings” further along in the review process.