YORKTOWN, N.Y. – In answering critics of laws proposed to govern the removal of trees and solar installations, the Town Board last week took divergent paths.
After public hearings held July 9, Town Supervisor Ilan Gilbert said at the beginning of the board’s work session on Tuesday, July 23, “It seemed obvious there was going to be significant-enough changes in both laws as drafted that we would need to potentially redraft the laws” and hold new hearings.
At the end of its discussion of changes to the tree law draft, the board asked Director of Planning John Tegeder and Town Attorney Richard Abbate to redraft the measure.
But the board plans to take another look—literally—at the solar proposal.
“We beat this tree law up for the past year,” Councilman Tom Diana said, “and now we’re talking about going in and clear-cutting possibly 10 acres of trees to put these panels in. Now, nobody to date from any of these companies that have come here for solar have shown us any visuals on what this is going to look like in the areas they’re talking about.”
Gilbert agreed and suggested that the board, with Tegeder’s help, “arrange a site visit, a road trip” to eyeball solar farms already operating in the area, adding, “That’s even better than a rendering.”
Before getting to that point, however, Tegeder spoke to a number of areas in the draft of the tree law that were cited by residents as ones of greatest concern. They included exempting properties up to a half-acre, moving a provision governing the removal of a single protected tree on a 15-percent slope to those governing erosion and sediment control, and improving the definition of a woodlands.
With the wetlands law, Gilbert said, “There’s an understanding of what the value of a wetland is,” but other than aesthetics, the value of a woodlands is unclear.
Tegeder said he hadn’t seen “any written science on what the functions [of woodlands] are and how that is pigeon-holed into the forest we are used to and what we have here.”
Tegeder also mentioned the need to clarify mitigation, “how that would be handled and its importance and the flexibility that’s afforded the Planning Board and Town Board and the town engineer.” There was some discussion, as well, he said, about modifying the mitigation ratio of one to one.
Gilbert noted that the 2010 law, the first tree law on the books, required mitigation while the 2016 law that replaced it made it optional.
“My feeling was to move towards a medium there, and a middle ground, saying basically that it would be presumption of full mitigation with justification by the approval authority” so that mitigation could be modified based on a number of factors, such as being “too onerous on the applicant and whether or not it would be fulfilling a true function,” Gilbert said.
Abbate noted, however, that the draft law only requires mitigation for the removal of protected trees in excess of the permitted amount, which is set at 10 in a calendar year.
Roker and Diana both also indicated they supported increasing the half-acre threshold to an acre, as it would be unlikely a half-acre lot would be subject to significant tree removal.
Regarding the solar law, Abbate told the board he had collected ones in effect in the cities/towns of New Rochelle, Ossining, Mount Kisco and Cortlandt. Of the one passed in Pound Ridge, he said, “Basically it says go to the Planning Board,” eliciting laughter from board members and some in the audience.
Referring to the lot size limitations set by some communities, Gilbert said, “Personally, I feel if you’re going to have it even with a 10-acre minimum, if you’re going to have it in residential, I think it has to clearly define it so the screening will be determined to be effective…I don’t know how you guarantee that, but I think it is very important.”
“It should not be visible from anywhere,” Tegeder said.
“So, the key factors that we’re really looking at,” Gilbert continued, “are whether or not we want it in residential” areas.
“That’s the factor everything else will descend from,” Tegeder said. “You have to decide whether or not it makes sense to do residential or not, whether or not it makes sense to do the large arrays in commercial or not.”
He also cautioned the board that should it go the “floating zone” route, as was suggested at the hearing, when a solar farm is decommissioned, it would already have been determined to support commercial uses and such a determination “can be used against you later on.”
Diana referred to one of the speakers at the public hearing, mentioning Paul Moskowitz by name, saying he was right “when he says you’re actually putting a huge roof on a clear-cut slope,” and asking what happens to water runoff.
“I am not for ground-mounted solar in a residential [zone] at all; it belongs on a roof” where it is out of eyesight, he said.
But Roker spoke to another resident at the public hearing, “a young woman who stood up” and said “this will affect her generation. And I agree. And I think that at some point we have got to recognize that we have got to do something with regard to renewable energy.” She also spoke about Patty Peckham, who is installing a solar array on a fallow parcel on her working farm.
“I think there are several farms in Yorktown and this certainly could help them in terms of upkeep of their property,” she said.
“That’s a quasi-commercial use, though, and you’re 100 percent right,” Diana said.
“I’m not going to give up on solar,” Roker said. “I’m not prepared to do that.”