NL board weighs code changes for solar panels, signs

NEW LEBANON–Town Supervisor Colleen Teal has proposed amending town law to allow the town to regulate solar panels, signs and industrial zoning throughout New Lebanon.

She said at the July 12 Town Board meeting that town needs to define how to assess and tax solar panels, including those used on private homes as well as in commercial “solar farm” operations. State currently offers a 15-year tax exemption for solar panels.

Town Attorney Dan Tuczinski proposed using a pilot (payment in lieu of tax) agreement for commercial solar operations. Currently there no such large solar arrays in New Lebanon, but Mr. Tuczinski advised the board, “Some of these solar farms are huge,” adding, “Do we want to allow them, if so where do we want to allow them?”

Supervisor Teal said, “We’re in a valley so if we’re not careful it can have a real impact on our views and how everything looks.”

The board will schedule two public hearings to gauge community opinion on the proposal.

Turning to another zoning issue that could be addressed by amending the local code–the high number of variance applications the town has received for signs on local businesses–the Town Board decided that the law on this matter should be changed.

“Handing out variances erodes the effect of your law,” said attorney Tuczinski. The current legislation, with an eye on businesses along Route20, allows each business one freestanding sign and one affixed sign. The revised law would consider the size of signs relative to the size of the building and distance from the road as well as the number of signs businesses are allowed.

“My feeling is, you’re chasing business out of town. Why come to this town if you can’t advertise?” one audience member remarked.

“If we don’t look good we’re losing business as is,” Ms. Teal replied.

Out of 54 businesses the town that have signs, only 10 are non-compliant.

The last of three proposed amendments would alter the border of the industrial zone as it was defined on a map from 2010. The 2010 map includes Schoolhouse Road and Bicknell Hollow, both of which are residential areas. Ms. Teal would like to see removed from the industrial zone. This proposed change must also be considered by the zoning re-write committee.

In other news:

• The board will schedule a public hearing to address state Department of Transportation funds that must be used for construction or returned in full for a sidewalk that was never built along Route 20

• If the weather remained dry, the town officials expected improvements to the Shatford Park tennis court would be completed within the week.

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