The KDC Solar land use application in Bedminster, New Jersey, seeks approval to develop an industrial scale solar power plant on the scenic and historic Kirby Farm, located in the Township’s rural residential zone. The application will soon be in its 34th month of hearings and counting. One might wonder why it takes so long. The application is a combined Final Site Plan and D Variance.
The hearings are proceeding on the site plan portion of the application as if the D variance would be approved. The application could have been bifurcated, with the agreement of the applicant, and hearings on the D variance portion could have commenced. If this had been done, the hearings would have likely been over 25 or more months ago, as the variance request is straight forward and the Land Use Board members, who should have an in-depth knowledge of Bedminster’s Master Plan and the applicable zoning ordinances and regulations, would have quickly concluded that the industrial scale 34,000 panel solar power plant which is PROHIBITED in the R-10 Rural Residential zone should be denied. The D variance is the highest New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law hurdle that exists.
The New Jersey legislature in 1997 amended the Municipal Land Use Law to make clear that even inherently beneficial uses must meet the negative criteria and evaluate whether the proposed use does have a negative impact on the overall zone plan of the community. The relevant provision now reads: No variance or other relief may be granted under the terms of this section, including a variance or other relief involving an inherently beneficial use, without a showing that such variance or other relief can be granted without substantial detriment to the public good and will not substantially impair the intent and the purpose of the zone plan and zoning ordinance.” N.J.S.A. 40:55D-70(d).
The proponent of an inherently beneficial use variance must address the statutory negative criteria and prove that on balance the public benefit outweighs any impairment to the zone plan and zoning ordinance or any detriment to the neighborhood. Where the proofs demonstrate that because of the specific property’s location and characteristics the detrimental effects of an inherently beneficial use outweigh the public benefit, a Zoning Board is authorized to deny the requested variance."
First of all, the KDC SOLAR/SANOFI project WILL have a negative impact on Bedminster’s overall zone plan. They are proposing to convert rural residential farmland to an industrial use in a rural residential zone district. This is contrary to the precepts of the approved Bedminster Master Plan, and substantially impairs the intent and purpose of the zone plan.
Secondly, there is no public benefit to this solar plant. Not a single resident of Bedminster will benefit. So the detrimental effects of this beneficial use outweigh the public benefit, as there is no public benefit. The benefits all go to Sanofi, KDC Solar and the Kirby Family Trust, none to the neighborhood or residents of Bedminster.
Why has all this time and money been needlessly spent? Maybe with the hope that the opposition, Stop the Somerset Hills Power Plant, would fade away, run out of money, or just give up. Politicians and their appointees may be for sale in New Jersey, but Bedminster is not for sale. Hypocrisy rules; sustainable green is advocated in public, but greedy green rules privately by both government and private enterprises.
Ironically, it is the public, through taxation and/or utility rates, who would subsidize this project which is to be built exclusively for the French pharmaceutical company, Sanofi whose U.S. headquarters are located in Bridgewater, NJ.
Benefitting from the public subsidies are three entities: (1) Sanofi Pharmaceuticals, (2) KDC Solar, the Bedminster-based developer of the project and (3) the Kirby Family Trust which owns the Bedminster farmland where the power plant would be built. THEY GAIN; residents feel the pain twice – once as ratepayers/taxpayers and once again by having to bear the burden of living with an industrial scale solar power plant in their rural residential neighborhoods.
For more information check out preservebedminster.com and plan to attend the next public Land Use Board hearing scheduled for January 7, 2016 at 7:00pm at the Bedminster Municipal building.
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