YORKTOWN, N.Y. - A law that would govern solar panel installations, large and small, inched forward last week with the input of the Town Board during a review of a draft proposed by Town Attorney Richard Abbate.
Abbate discussed some provisions in the draft, the language of which, he said, was written under the eye of John Tegeder, the town’s director of planning. He began by stating the intent of the board was to simultaneously pass a law authorizing the town to enter into agreements with commercial applicants which would require payment in lieu of taxes for no more than 15 years, the state’s tax-emption period.
The draft deals separately with installations in residential and commercial zones, he said. Applications for installations in residential zones would be handled by the building inspector, while applications for larger arrays, defined as anything that produces more than 12 kilowatts per hour, would be directed to the Planning Board and would be subject to its site plan requirements, such as those for setbacks, tree removal/mitigation and buffering/landscape screening.
Although the draft also requires applicants to present plans for eventual decommissioning of the so-called solar farms, it did not include a bond requirement, he said, because, “It’s difficult to bond forever.”
Councilwoman Alice Roker said she thought the town needed some protection, noting experiences with the abandonment of cell towers, for example.
Town Supervisor Ilan Gilbert also suggested the draft include a provision, “because we’re handing this off to the Planning Board,” citing the need for it to take into consideration such factors as erosion, runoff and potential risks to wildlife habitat, as already required in the review of any application.
Gilbert noted that the solar law, which was prompted by the emergence of commercial proposals, was being considered in tandem with tree law revisions, which the board and other town regulating authorities have been vetting for more than a year. The revisions, proposed by members of Advocates for a Better Yorktown, are designed to strengthen the town’s current tree law, which was enacted in 2016.
“It is our desire to have a public hearing on both so that we can make sure we deal with any conflict,” Gilbert said.
Asked whether Tegeder had expressed any concerns regarding conflicts, Linda Miller, a retired environmental consultant, a former member of the Conservation Board, a member of ABY and an author of the proposed tree law, said she couldn’t speak for him.
However, she said, “A main issue is that the goals and intents of the laws are two entirely different things. You have a tree law, which the goal and intent is to protect trees and woodlands, and you have the solar law, the intent of which is to collect sunshine for very good environmental reasons, but also economic. And in order to do that, you have to have open space, which necessitates cutting down trees. So, there’s a conflict right there, and the Town Board has to make a policy decision about how to weigh those different goals.”
Gilbert again stressed the importance of public hearings on the proposed laws in its decision-making process.
As for the amended tree law, Miller declared, it is “ready.”
“It is in very fine form,” she said, suggesting all the board needs to do to the final draft is press the delete key on questionable, italicized passages.