Knox nixes solar array

KNOX — After over seven months of review, the town of Knox’s planning board ruled last Thursday to deny an application to Community 2.0 to build a solar array on property owned by Peter Young Housing.

Board member Travis O’Donnell initially made the motion to deny the application on the grounds that the board had not received information requested by neighbors of the property two months earlier.

U.S. Solutions does business as Community 2.0, and the Peter Young property is owned by Vesta Community Housing. Community 2.0 approached the board in November, after a similar application before the town of Guilderland was shot down by the village of Altamont, stating that the application was “deficient” in detail. The company then withdrew its application.

The nearly two-megawatt array would have been built with over 300 “solar tables,” each measuring 30 by 12 feet and each containing 18 solar panels, standing up to seven-and-a-half feet high. The 32 acres of property would have been encircled by a black vinyl-covered chain-link fence, with a 50-foot setback from the property line, although only about 13 acres of land would be affected by construction. The biggest amount of construction had been estimated to be for a 300-foot access road, requiring about 7,700 cubic yards of stone and fill to decrease the steep grade of the property.

Neither Justin Beiter — the vice president of Engineering and Construction at Community 2.0 — or Jared Pantella — a civil engineer at LaBella Associates, the engineering firm contracted by Community 2.0 — were present at the June 22 meeting. Planning board Chairman Robert Price said that Beiter was ill, and Pantella was attending his daughter’s graduation.

Beiter told The Enterprise the following day that he had been recovering from abdominal surgery and asked to answer questions on Monday, but did not return calls on that day or Wednesday. Pantella did not return calls for comment.

At the planning board’s April meeting, Kevin and Suzanne Hale had requested the company create a visual of how the array would appear from their home, which is higher than the street level view of the images provided. Bob and Carly Digeser had also expressed concern about the visual impact at their home at the April meeting.

Beiter had told them he would visit their home in the first week of May, but at the following planning board meeting the Digesers said that Beiter had not shown up, and requested a similarly elevated view of how the array would appear at their home. Board member Thomas Wolfe listed a third resident, Mitchell Lustig, as having requested a different visual, too.

The Hales and the Digesers both live off of Route 156 and were part of several households that had not received a notice of the public hearing scheduled for the April meeting. Upon discovering that LaBella had a 40-percent failure rate of contacting neighbors of the proposed array, the planning board scheduled a second public hearing in May.

In September, the board had unanimously approved a different solar company, Borrego Solar, to establish a solar farm on the Whipple family’s land, also not far from Route 156. The board members described a very different relationship with the company.

“It’s like pulling teeth,” said board member Betty Ketchum, of getting information from Community 2.0, as opposed to Borrego. She added that she felt “spoiled” by the cooperation from Borrego.

Price agreed, noting that the board had created a checklist for Community 2.0 to follow based on its predecessor’s actions.

“They benefited from the board’s experience with Borrego,” he said, of Community 2.0.

Robert Gwin, one of two board members who voted against denying the application, said that he felt the Peter Young Center should be given a fair chance to be heard. Wolfe said he would be willing to give the company until the next planning board meeting, or establish a “drop-dead date” to get the requested images.

In the audience, Fran Porter, who had defended solar arrays at previous meetings, said the land would likely become a development should it not be used for solar.

“Five years down the road, it’s going to be something,” she said. “A solar array isn’t a bad neighbor compared to a development.”

“If you have wetlands covering half the property, do you think anybody is going to make any money on residential property?” asked Bob Digeser, adding that there would be additional costs for putting in things like septic.

“There’s a lot of land,” murmured Porter. “Like, 85 acres.”

Digeser added that at least there would be less dust if the roadway were to be paved for a development rather than unpaved as planned for the arrays.

“I’d rather have humans than solar arrays,” said Kevin Hale. “I can make friends with humans.”

“Yeah,” agreed Digeser. “Picket fences instead of six rows of barbed wire,” he said, referring to the proposed fence surrounding the arrays.

At the two public hearings, neighbors like the Digesers and the Hales had expressed concern about their viewshed and how much land would be impacted. Another neighbor, Joseph Breitenbach, had said he was worried about how wildlife would be affected.

O’Donnell asked to have his motion amended to include the residents concerns voiced about the array.

After being amended several times, Wolfe called for a motion to deny the application based on Community 2.0’s non-responsiveness. He then became one of the two to vote against his own motion, saying he had made it to settle the issue.

Price voted yes — to deny the application — along with board members Brett Pulliam, O'Donnell, and Debra Nelson. Wolfe and Gwin voted against the motion.


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