Johnstown city Planning Board eyes solar moratorium request

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Exterior of Johnstown City Hall at 2753 Route 29, Johnstown

JOHNSTOWN – The city of Johnstown’s first solar project application has the Planning Board seeking a moratorium from the city council until the city’s zoning can be updated to include language on such developments. 

The move comes after the Planning Board was originally scheduled Tuesday evening during its monthly meeting to hold a public hearing regarding the proposed 1.6-megawatt solar farm proposed by Solar Power Network LLC for Daisy Lane that is estimated to cost around $2.4 million to construct

That hearing never took place. Although a handful of residents showed for the hearing, the board decided not to hold one after determining it shouldn’t have even entertained the project to begin with. 

“It’s a jurisdictional issue,” said board President Peter Smith. “How do we issue an approval for something that’s not a listed permitted use under our code?” 

Smith said after discussing with both city attorney Michael Polin and former county planning director James Mraz the application by Solar Power should have been automatically denied by the code office because it doesn’t fit within any of the city zoning and therefore would need to be brought before the Zoning Board of Appeals not the Planning Board. 

Mraz said that one of the fundamental rules of planning is that anything that isn’t a use within the municipality’s list of regulated uses should be denied. On top of that the city ordinance states “Any use not specifically listed in Schedule A as an allowed use in the zoning district shall be prohibited in that district,” Mraz said. 

But even if the company went to the Zoning Board of Appeals, Mraz said he believes the company would have a hard time showing the board that the land would have any other use than becoming a solar farm, which would be needed to get a permit to build.  

A representative of the solar company did not attend the meeting Tuesday. It did not return a request for comment. 

Mraz suggested the city take the time to update its zoning and zoning regulations to include how it would handle solar applications. He said having a moratorium in place would be consistent with what nearby municipalities have done or are doing. 

“The one thing you have to know is that the push for solar at the state and federal level is just going to intensify,” Mraz said. “You have to have an expectation that there’s going to be more of these and if that’s the case you just have to be properly prepared to be able to review these and make sure these projects, just like everything you look at, are not going to have any negative impacts on the community.”

Mraz said the town of Johnstown was just coming out of its moratorium and the town of Broadalbin is looking at enacting one. A public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9 regarding a one-year moratorium on solar in Broadalbin. 

Mayor Amy Praught could not be reached for comment. 

Eric and Jan Ackernecht live at 451 N. Perry St., not far from the proposed solar farm, and are against such projects in the city. 

“It doesn’t belong in city limits,” Eric Ackernecht said following the meeting Tuesday. 

The couple live in a home that’s been in their family since 1955 and said tearing down trees to put in the development is a bad idea, noting they see lots of wildlife in the wooded area. 

“There’s deer that come out of the woods,” Jan Ackernecht said. 

On top of that, she’s concerned about what happens years down the road when the company wants to take the solar out and whether such a project would exacerbate flooding issues already seen in the area.

By Shenandoah Briere

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