Planning board resumes solar project review

PHOTOGRAPHER:
Travis Mitchell of Environmental Design Partnership of Clifton Park presents a topographical map of the city of Gloversville showing areas from which a community solar farm proposed for construction on the former Pine Brook Golf Club property at 280 S. Main St. would be visible during Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting. The blue shaded section of the map shows the area of the proposed solar array while green shaded areas represent sections of the city from which the array would be visible topographically, absent existing buildings and vegetation. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — The city Planning Board on Tuesday resumed its review of a subdivision application seeking to divide the former Pine Brook Golf Club on South Main Street into four parcels. The resulting center parcel is eyed for the development of a solar farm, requiring additional board consideration as developers plan to subsequently request that the city rezone the residential property commercial to allow the project on the site subject to a special use permit.

Details on the subdivision application from Pine Brook Solar LLC and plans for the subsequent community solar project were provided to the board during the Feb. 4 meeting.

The subdivision application is seeking permission to divide the approximately 155-acre former Pine Brook Golf Club property at 280 S. Main St. into four lots. The entire property is currently zoned residential. The first lot created by the subdivision would be approximately 91 acres in size running around the perimeter of the existing property.

The second lot would encompass approximately 57 acres at the center of the existing property with a section reaching down to South Main Street to provide access to the interior of the parcel where Eden Renewables has proposed the development of a solar farm. Eden Renewables has secured a purchase agreement for the lot with the property owners and would seek a zoning change from the city to redistrict the property as commercial.

The third lot would be approximately two acres large and would encompass the area surrounding the former clubhouse building. Current property owners, 280 South Main Street Ventures, would retain ownership of the first and third lots created by the subdivision. The property owner would seek a zoning change for the two acre lot around the clubhouse to redistrict the property as commercial. No zoning change would be requested for the 91-acre residential lot.

The fourth lot created by the subdivision would be approximately 1.46 acres in size and would be combined with the Antonucci Foods property at 274 S. Main St. to avoid creating a landlocked parcel while allowing the produce wholesaler to potentially undertake an expansion project. Antonucci would seek to have the parcel rezoned commercial.

While only the subdivision application is currently under Planning Board review, the board acknowledged in February that the application is part of a larger project that would eventually require a zoning amendment from the city followed by the submission of a special use permit application, making it necessary to consider the impact of the planned solar farm and to initiate the State Environmental Quality Review over the solar project while considering the current application.

Eden Renewables plans to construct a community solar project on the 57-acre center parcel across approximately 32 to 35 acres at the core of the lot with a gap of 15 to 20 feet between each row of the approximately eight and a half feet tall axis tracker solar panel modules that follow the path of the sun throughout the day. The solar array would have a capacity of approximately 7.5 MWp and would be capable of powering about 1,225 homes.

Power generated from the community solar project would be sold to National Grid and would benefit area residents who could subscribe to the project to receive credits on their regular utility bill based on the amount of energy produced and their annual rate of power consumption.

The site would be secured with a fence immediately surrounding the solar array and monitored via closed-circuit television cameras. Eden would plant and maintain indigenous wildflowers around the array that would be pollinator friendly to bees and butterflies. The solar farm would be screened from sight with additional trees and shrubs planted along the existing vegetation border surrounding the former golf course.

During planning and construction, Eden would seek to hire locally. Following construction, local landscapers would be secured to maintain the property. No on-site staff would be employed, with Eden performing routine maintenance at the site a few times a year or as needed.

The lifetime of the array would be approximately 40 years and Eden would develop a decommissioning plan for the units as part of the project. Project developers have pointed to upgrades to the power grid and the connection between the grid and the solar array that Eden will fund to support the project as a valuable asset that may lead the company to continue at the site beyond the initial 40 year period.

In the event Eden ceased operations on the property, all components of the solar panels and materials from the project would be removed and the site returned to its preexisting condition.

The Planning Board in its initial review of the subdivision application identified potential aesthetic and visual impacts from the future solar project and requested additional information from project developers.

Travis Mitchell of Environmental Design Partnership of Clifton Park and Gillian Black of Eden Renewables appeared before the board on Tuesday to present findings from an initial topographical review to pinpoint areas surrounding the proposed solar farm from which the array my be visible. A full visual analysis incorporating the initial findings will be used to develop screening measures.

Using terrain features on Google Earth, Travis said developers identified areas of the city from which the solar array would be visible based solely on topography absent of buildings and vegetation. From there, a street by street review of potentially impacted areas was conducted to fill in existing buildings and vegetation that would naturally block views of the site.

“Going street by street and looking toward this property we think it’s mostly blocked by vegetation, buildings, those types of things,” said Travis, noting that the initial review was based on the view of the site from the street level.

“From some critical locations in here we can elevate the view as if you’re on the second story window looking back toward the site,” he added. “What we’re really trying to do with this tool is focus in on these visual impacts, this isn’t our visual impact study, this is just to make sure we’re on the same page as far as where we’re going to focus.”

Board members pointed to neighborhoods immediately surrounding the site and areas of Main Street and the hillside Burr Street neighborhood where multi-story apartment buildings are common as areas that developers should review to examine the possible visibility of the site from second and third story vantage points.

Travis agreed to examine the specified areas while noting that the full visual impact study will provide a more in depth analysis to identify impacted areas. Developers will float three foot diameter balloons along the perimeter of the site at the height of the solar array and take photos looking towards the site from potentially impacted areas to get an overview of sight lines that will be used to develop screening measures.

“It gives us a reference point both vertically and horizontally,” said Travis.

Photo rendering software will be used to project accurate images of the solar array on the site and screening measures needed to block views from impacted areas. Typically solar projects use evergreen trees to provide screening, but Travis pointed to a mix of wooded deciduous and evergreen trees as possibly more appropriate for the area.

“We’ll do whatever the board prefers if we get that far, but in our opinion evergreens in a situation like this can look out of place,” he said.

In addition to taking input from the board regarding areas of concern, Travis said developers will reach out to residents who may be concerned about the project’s potential impact for feedback.

“A lot of times at a public hearing on these things you’ve got the public very concerned with what their view is going to look like and so we will reach out, we will pay them a visit and take some of these roadside photos from their point of concern and if it requires a specific screening just on their property then that’s something we can take a look at,” said Travis. “The philosophy here is up front, out in the open, here’s what it’s going to look like.”

Consultant to the Fulton County Planning Department, Sean Geraghty, noted that aesthetic impacts are currently the only potential issue of concern from the proposed solar project under the SEQR process and until the full visual analysis is complete a final determination over SEQR and the subdivision application cannot be made.

The only action taken by the Planning Board on the subdivision application on Tuesday was the approval of a motion declaring the board lead agency for the purposes of determining SEQR.

By Kerry Minor

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