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Planning Board asks for more time to study solar array legislation

Nicole A. Hawley
Staff writer
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Posted 10/9/22

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the Rome Planning Board tabled a recommendation in regards to the construction and establishment of solar arrays within Rome.

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Planning Board asks for more time to study solar array legislation

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ROME — At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the Rome Planning Board tabled a recommendation to the Common Council about proposed changes to the city Zoning Code in regards to the construction and establishment of solar arrays within Rome. Instead, they asked for more time to study the issue and make recommendations.

At its Sept. 28 meeting, the Common Council tabled Ordinance 9538 amending Rome Code of Ordinances Chapter 80 Zoning Code so that the legislation could go to the Planning Board for review prior to a public hearing being scheduled. 

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers, who was instrumental in helping to draft the legislation, informed the Planning Board that a few solar projects had come before the Zoning Board of Appeals previously, in particular, a project proposed by Seaboard Solar off Turin Road.

That project in particular last year "brought out a significant number of residents who had big concerns about these developments," Rogers explained.

During the process of representing area residents and addressing their concerns, Rogers said city officials decided to look further into legislation concerning solar arrays and found "there were not many things or there was nothing prescribed" as per the design perspective.

"There were little protectants for residents or taxpayers if they were negatively impacted by construction of these projects — like after they went up, would they be impacted by glare, noise, or any other possible negative impacts? And we don't want the projects abandoned, because that too would end up being a significant cost to the taxpayers to remediate these parcels and take the projects down," Rogers said.

The council's draft legislation uses the New York State Environmental Research & Development Authority's (NYSERDA) solar law as well as references to other communities in New York, like the Town of Olean in Cattaraugus County.

"We looked at the Town of Olean and they have an extremely comprehensive plan for protection that we used for our framework," Rogers said. "We also got great feedback from the community itself, specifically by people from the Turin Road (proposed) project. Our concern was where the current code allowed these large scale facilities to go and the protections that were in place."

Oneida County has 30 days to respond and make comments on the legislation, and the city is waiting for that response. Because of this, there is legislation on the council agenda Wednesday that would put a brief extension on the moratorium because the current would expire before the county's deadline for comment, Rogers explained.

Included in the proposed legislation are improvements to the notification process as far as requirements to notify property owners, and protections for mitigating factors like glare and noise.

There are also specifications about buffering and the level of allowable decibels with regard to noise level. Projects of 10 acres or more would require site plan approval by the Planning Board, and small projects on residential rooftops would be considered an allowed use in a residential zone, as long as they did not negatively impact the neighborhood.

Bobbie O'Brien of Martin Drive, who also serves as president of the Board of Trustees of the Rome Historical Society, requested that board members ensure that when approving the new solar array zoning, they take into account the historic districts.

"Consider the materials that are allowed in the historic district," she advised.

Christian Mercurio, 1015 Jervis Ave., said he applauded the council’s process in deriving the legislation but asked that it reconsider some specific items that could become unnecessary roadblocks for developers.

The legislation "is well researched and democratized — it certainly achieves its objective of protecting property owners and the quality of life," said Mercurio. "But there's a couple of items, from a developer's perspective, that need to be clarified or amended before adopting this."

Mercurio went on to describe a clause pertaining to an 18-month requirement for permits, which is a "short time," he said.

"It takes a long time to get through environmental reviews and the easements, which are necessary but beyond anyone’s control. National Grid" alone "is generally pretty backed up," Mercurio said. To extend that, "I don't think that would compromise the legislation at all," he added. "...That's so developers wouldn’t have the burden of coming back for a permit they were already approved for."

Mercurio said required setbacks were also an issue in the legislation, in addition to the sound decibel requirements for noise.

"I want to be clear that I want to see you reduce the acreage for these projects — I don’t want to see good land eaten by these projects — to potentially protect the land for agricultural use. But a 100 feet or 200 feet setback is too much for an industrial district," said Mercurio. "In a residential district, however, that makes sense."

As for noise created by solar arrays to be kept at around 5 decibels, Mercurio said, "That's difficult to establish a baseline on. A secluded area" can still read "30 decibels, the rustling of leaves can measure 20 decibels."

With the setback requirements, noise decibels "won't really make a difference," he said.

Mercurio added that he agrees with the legislation's performance bond clause, although "40% of the project is pretty steep," and that wildlife management should be discussed during the public hearing for the legislation.

To take into consideration the recommendations made during the public comment portion of the meeting, Planning Board member Karim Madmoune recommended a motion to table the legislation for further review. The motion was unanimously approved.

In other business:

• A historic district opinion request by Michael Corbett, owner of 507 N. George St., to install solar panels on a portion of the roof not facing North George Street, and on the garage, was unanimously approved.

Corbett explained that the building is the only single-family house on the National Registry of Historic Places that was just shy of being demolished 25 years ago when he purchased the property at auction for $5,000. According to the city's proposed solar array legislation, Corbett said his proposal would be considered a Tier 1 project, and that the state has promised a 20% rebate if he follows through with the panel installation.

He pointed out that the current moratorium doesn’t apply to residential projects.

"Solar is very beneficial from a number of perspectives, and the more we can get out of it, the better off the world is — like the fact it will probably eliminate my electric bill and it has no effect on the historic aspects" of the house or neighborhood, said Corbett.

During public comment, Mercurio commended Corbett for his proposal and encouraged the development of similar projects.

"More people should be doing what he’s doing," Mercurio said. "More of us should be doing this if we had the means and incentive. I know where this house is, and I don’t think this will compromise the neighborhood. I'd hate to see roadblocks put up for something like this, or for people to be discouraged to do it."

While she said she is in favor of green energy, O'Brien once again asked that the board consider solar projects proposed for historic districts.

"I agree it's a wonderful situation for Mr. Corbett, but there's some restrictions you should be thinking about, and that I strongly suggest you look at existing zoning within a historic district," she said.

Planning Board Vice-chairman Joseph Calandra recommended that the solar panels be allowed on the property, and the motion was unanimously approved.

• A request by the city Department of Community and Economic Development for a historic opinion at 105 W. Court St. was unanimously approved. Applicant Brennen Foster said a city codes "write-up" was received for the porch and deck on the property, which needs to be demolished and repaired. Foster promised to keep the "aesthetic look" by eliminating the existing cedar shingles and installing a basic skirting to the porch.

"Everything is rotted," Foster said. "I would like to do aluminum on the columns, but keep the same look." He said he would also repaint the porch the same color. The opinion was approved by the board on the condition Foster use a "historically appropriate color."

• A negative declaration on the Site Environmental Quality Review and approval of the site plan were granted for Paul and Dennis Evanciew to build a 1,748 square-foot ice cream shop with 1,008 square-foot pavilion, and associated site elements, at the intersection of Link and Rome-Taberg roads. The Evanciews agreed to come back before the board when it came time for the approval of signage requirements, which was not part of the original site design.

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