K’hook debates zoning limits on solar farms

KINDERHOOK–The Town Board had a full house at a public hearing August 7 on proposed new and updated zoning laws for solar panels. The proposed changes include wording on solar farms and ground-mounted panels, which are not in the current zoning laws.

Several residents spoke about what they felt is vagueness in the proposals. Town resident Marcia Anderson asked about a section in the proposed laws, under the heading “Application,” which says, “The Planning Board may, in its discretion, waive or simplify any of the requirements set forth in this section… that the board deems are unnecessary or inappropriate for its review of an application.”

Town Attorney Andy Howard said that wording was there to “give the Planning Board a little flexibility to plan.”

Ms. Anderson pointed out if there are issues with an application the applicant can go to the town Zoning Board of Appeals for review. “You’re giving away the regulations,” she said at one point, following up with the statement, that the proposal was “letting the Planning Board have all this discretion.”

Another resident, Jane Krebs, said that she had looked at the state guidelines on the Unified Solar Permit, which the Town Board plans to adopt with its proposed modifications to local zoning. “I think you’ve got to be awfully careful,” she said, referring to the drafting of solar system regulations. She said the proposed changes are too general. She suggested looking at solar farm overlay districts, as the state suggests, and getting more input from the community on public concerns raised by the large scale installations referred to as solar farms.

Also present were several residents who live on or near Whitney Lane and were worried that land near their homes could be used for a solar farm under the proposals. Mr. Howard emphasized that there is currently no application the board is reviewing that would fall under the proposed new laws.

He also said the property on Whitney could not be used for anything but residential properties. The covenant protecting that property would not change with the passage of these laws, he said, adding, “You have legal standing to fight that” if someone did seek approval to put a solar farm there.

Some residents, including former Town Supervisor Doug McGivney, spoke in favor of the proposals. “It benefits our farms,” said Mr. McGivney of farmland that could be used for solar farms.

As defined in the law, a solar farm is “a large-scale or utility-scale solar energy system that is ground mounted and produces energy primarily for the purpose of offsite sale or consumption.”

Mark Leinung, who is on the town’s Climate Smart Committee, said that his committee reviewed the proposals and made suggestions. The Planning Board also reviewed the laws and proposed that the Town Board adopt them. The town’s Codes Committee reviewed the zoning laws first and made changes after the Town Board released there were zoning laws on solar farms or ground mounted solar panels.

“I think it’s a good balance,” Mr. Leinung said of the changes. He said applicants still have to go through the permitting process and have their projects reviewed by the Planning Board.

The board decided to table any motion to approve the proposed changes at the regular meeting and hold a special workshop meeting August 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building.

But the board did decide to close the public hearing so the workshop will just be a board discussion of the proposed laws.

Also at the meeting:

• County Sheriff Deputy Toby Van Alstyne addressed community members about the Ichabod Crane School District’s response to the opioid crisis. He said that Ichabod was the first school to address the crisis and that he and Councilwoman Patsy Leader attend close door Safe School meetings several times a year. He said that anyone who wants information on what the district is doing should go to the school district central office. He also stressed that community members should report suspicious behavior. “See something, let us know,” he said

• Former town supervisor Keith Stack, executive director at The Addictions Care Center of Albany and a consultant to the county Board of Supervisors Opioid Task Force, talked about the county’s response. The county has a 24-hour hotline (518 828-9446) where people can get help with addiction and the county plans to have community meetings. He also talked about the Chatham Cares 4U program started by the Chatham Police to get people into recovery and about Columbia Pathways to Recovery (CPR). “There is a lot going on already in the county,” he said of groups working on the crisis. The county will be hosting a Opioid Epidemic Response forum on September 14 at 6 p.m. at the Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building

• The board agreed to write to the state about the condition of Route 203 and the need for it to be repaved at in spots in the town

• The board approved a motion to support the Village of Kinderhook as it applies for a Greenway Grant to study recreational uses of the Kinderhook Creek. The governor recently signed legislation making the creek a state inland waterway and now the town, the villages of Kinderhook and Valatie and the Town of Stuyvesant can move forward with finding funding.

The next regular board meeting will be Monday, September 11 at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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