Dunnsville Road solar project: once controversial, now amenable

— From Helios Energy submittal package on file with the town of Guilderland

Originally, a five-megawatt solar array was proposed for a 61-acre field at 6604 Dunnsville Road, owned by Joseph Muia, beside Orchard Creek, a golf course owned by the Abbruzzese family.

GUILDERLAND — The proposed solar array on Dunnsville Road — which initially led to an organized public outcry, inspiring not one but two laws — is now quietly progressing through the approval process but still faces a potential hurdle in getting over the finish line.

The Guilderland Planning Board at its April 14 meeting signed off on the facility’s site plan and sent the proposal back to the zoning board, the lead agency on the project.

The proposed five-megawatt solar array still has to be sent to the Altamont-Guilderland Referral Committee because proposals for town projects within 1,200 feet of the village boundary or within 1,200 feet of Altamont’s current or future water system must be referred to the village for a recommendation. 

It would take a supermajority vote — four of the Guilderland Zoning Board of Appeals’ five members — to overturn Altamont’s recommendation.

The referral committee in June of last year had recommended that the initial application for a 120-foot side-setback variance be disapproved

But during an October 2020 zoning board meeting, a lawyer for Helios Energy, the project developer, told the board that the company was pulling its request for a side-setback variance. Rather than pursue the variance, the lawyer said, the plan now was for a lot-line adjustment, “which would essentially achieve the same desired effect from granting the variance.”  

Jaqueline Coons, Guilderland’s chief building and zoning inspector, said during the October 2020 meeting that, if the applicant were withdrawing the variance application, the project “should be able to move forward to the planning board for site-plan review ….”



In September 2016, the town considered an application from U. S. Solar Solutions for a solar farm off Route 156 above the village of Altamont, but that application was withdrawn after Altamont’s village board voted unanimously to adopt the referral committee’s findings and recommended that Guilderland’s zoning board disapprove the proposed two-megawatt solar array.

Helios Energy originally proposed to install the solar array on a sloping 61-acre field at 6604 Dunnsville Road, owned by Joseph Muia, overlooking Orchard Creek, the golf course owned by the Abbruzzese family, in 2019.

The organized objection to the proposal led the town to make additions to its original solar law, and eventually the two sides came to an agreement on the project. The array is now proposed for 6580 Dunnsville Road, a nearly 57-acre Abbruzzese-owned property adjacent to Muia’s, property which he’s slated to take ownership of.

The proposal also inspired a law, adopted by the county legislature in February, that says the Albany County Planning Board must now consider the Helderberg escarpment viewshed when making project recommendations to local planning and zoning boards. A negative recommendation from the county planning board would force a local board to approve a proposal by a supermajority vote. 


Armstrongs appeased

During the April 14 planning board meeting, the engineer speaking on behalf of Helios said he spoke with the now-few property owners potentially impacted by the project. Singling out the Armstrongs, who in the past have written to the zoning board about the project, the engineer said he thought the property would be sufficiently screened because of the topography alone, but said evergreen trees would be added for additional screening. 

Asked this week about his dealings with Helios, Allen Armstrong told The Enterprise, “Well, of course, nobody wants something like this, but they’re working with us. And I think we’ve come pretty much to an agreement, you know, they’re going to stay pretty much away from my property.”

Armstrong said there’s a dropoff on his property — one that gets more considerable as you move 100 to 125 feet away from the property line — and, if Helios sticks to the setbacks, the array won’t be “bothering us that much.”

“We’ve had our concerns, and they seem to abide by what were our concerns,” Armstrong said. “So, we’re really not having too much trouble with it.”

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