Hillsdale bars solar farms ahead of new zoning

HILLSDALE–Following public comments at the September 13 meeting, the Town Board approved a six-month moratorium on commercial solar power installations in the town.

In an interview after the meeting town Supervisor Peter Cipkowski said the moratorium was required because current zoning laws were deemed inadequate to regulate commercial solar businesses in light of concerns about safety of installations, aesthetics and the future decommissioning of outdated and abandoned facilities.

The town website, hillsdaleny.com, says that “the law is intended to buy the town some time as it develops permanent guidelines for solar growth. The temporary ban will remain in effect while the board approves a proposal for Local Law 3 of 2016, which would define and regulate commercial solar facilities. The law, once adopted, would become part of the town zoning law.

The towns “ultimate goal,” acording to the website is to “encourage private, residential solar use. The future of long-term commercial solar farming in Hillsdale is unclear.”

In its draft form the Local Law 3 proposal defines commercial solar operations as:

• Large scale solar energy systems that produce energy primarily for the purpose of offsite sale or consumption

• Solar energy equipment, i.e. electrical energy storage devices, material, hardware, inverters, or other electrical equipment and devices associated with the production of electrical energy

• Solar energy generating systems composed of a combination of solar panels and solar energy equipment.

Neither the moratorium nor proposed law applies to ground or roof mounted solar energy systems installed for the primary purpose of producing electricity for onsite residential consumption.

In other business:

• Mr. Cipkowski said the board also discussed signs on town property. He said there is opposition to signs town memorials to veterans. The supervisor said board member Steve Tygart suggested that a section of Cullin Park at a distance from the Civil War memorial, be exempted from the proposed ban so that businesses in the triangle can advertise

• The supervisor said that the state Department of Transportation has given the green light to the sidewalks project. The town will advertise for bids on the $800,000 project, over a three-week period, and its engineers, GPI, will evaluate the bids. Construction work along Route 23 likely will not begin before March 2017. Before the sidewalks work starts, DOT must replace a damaged pipe along Route 23

• An eight-member Climate Smart task force has been formed. The supervisor said its mission is to make proposals to help Hillsdale reduce its carbon footprint. David Lewis, current chair of the Conservation Advisory Council (CAC), serves as acting chair of the task force. Other members include current and past council members, Robina Ward and Augie Sena, as well as town Planning Board Chair Hank Henward.

From August 27 to September 10, Hillsdale was a hub of cultural activity involving food, music and visual arts that Supervisor Cipkowski wants to see continued on an annual basis. He described the events of Artswalk, Grillsdale and the Oldtone Roots Music Festival as “ good for the town and community” and thanked the folks behind their planning. He estimated attendance at each event at 400.

The music festival had hoped to attract 1,000 people but delays in securing a site limited its promotion.

Oldtone organizers are already strategizing to expand for next year, according to the supervisor, who noted that there were no noise complaints and that local businesses were pleased.

Of the trifecta events, Mr. Cipkowski said, “It’s just the beginning.”

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