Disheartened, confused by planning board’s removal of language relating to the importance of visual and aesthetic impact

To the Editor:

New York State has a plan to supply 70-percent renewable electricity by 2030 and is committed to accelerate the construction of renewable-energy projects, combat climate change, and grow the state’s green economy.

As a result of these stated goals, towns and communities throughout the state are wrestling with issues concerning proper siting of solar and wind installations. Recently, in our community there has been significant opposition to the siting of a proposed solar installation on Dunnsville Road, in western Guilderland.

In opposition to the siting of the project, over 1,200 valid signatures were collected on petitions, numerous letters to the Enterprise editor were written, 100 lawn signs were posted throughout western Guilderland and many, many letters and postcards in opposition to the project were directed to leaders in town government.

In response to the overwhelming community outcry, Guilderland reviewed the language related specifically to solar siting, and submitted changes for community feedback. Last week, the Guilderland Planning Board, under the guidance of Chairman Stephen Feeney, reviewed the proposed changes. We attended that meeting and were disheartened and admittedly confused by the actions taken to remove virtually all language relating to the importance of visual and aesthetic impact.

The position taken at the meeting was that the notion of “aesthetics” and “visual impact” is subjective and therefore not relevant to criteria for issuing special-use permits for solar installations. Also at that meeting, Chairman Feeney stated that the Guilderland Comprehensive Plan and the Rural Guilderland Plan were not pertinent to the consideration of the siting of solar and other renewable installations because these types of installations were not specifically mentioned.

There was no opportunity for community reaction and/or feedback at that meeting, and we left the meeting aghast at the resolute dismissal of the opinions and wishes of the community. The changes suggested by Chairman Feeney would essentially restore previous language.

Chairman Feeney is incorrect in his assumption that visual and aesthetic impact is too subjective to be assessed fairly — the voice of the community is a testament to this fact. There are two recently constructed solar projects in western Guilderland, one off of Becker Road and another on Route 20 on the Knaggs farm; both of these projects are situated such that there is minimal, if any, view of them from roads and homesites — these projects received the overwhelming support of the community.

In the neighboring state of Vermont, a set of aesthetic development standards known as the “Quechee test” has been in place for over 10 years, and its authority has been validated and upheld in legal challenges.

We’d like to briefly review the Vermont Criterion 8 (Aesthetics, Scenic and Natural Beauty).

Before issuing a permit, a fact-specific inquiry on the adverse effect to the scenic or natural beauty of the area, aesthetics, historic sites, or rare or irreplaceable natural areas is assessed; it is specifically noted that the criteria were not intended to prevent all changes to the landscape or to guarantee that the view a person sees from their window will remain unchanged.

If an adverse effect is determined, the project is then evaluated whether the adverse effect is “undue.” If a project is assigned an “undue” designation, permitting will be denied and the project is halted. The commission will conclude that adverse effect is “undue” if it reaches a positive finding with respect to any one of the following factors:

— 1. Does the project violate a clear,written community standard intended to preserve the aesthetics or scenic beauty of the area?

Here our community standards as expressed in the Guilderland Comprehensive Plan and the Rural Guilderland Plan would apply;

— 2. Does the project offend the sensibilities of the average person? Is it offensive or shocking because it is out of character with its surroundings or significantly diminishes the scenic qualities of the area?

Here input from the community-at-large assumes importance;

— 3. Has the applicant failed to take generally available mitigating steps which a reasonable person would take to improve the harmony of the project with its surroundings?

Mitigation is addressed in the current language.

We urge the Guilderland Town Board to take the reins on this issue and include language in our town codes that will preserve and protect the aesthetic qualities of our town.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts on this topic.

John and Donna Abbruzzese


Editor’s notes: The Abbruzzeses own the Orchard Creek Course Club and are trying to arrange to have a proposed solar farm re-sited so as not to mar the view of the Helderbergs.

See related editorial.

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