Pine Brook subdivision reviewed
GLOVERSVILLE — The city Planning Board on Tuesday initiated the review of a subdivision application seeking to divide the former Pine Brook Golf Club on South Main Street into four parcels. The center parcel that would be created is eyed for the development of a solar farm, complicating the review process as the residential lot would later need to be rezoned by the city to allow the project.
Appearing before the board on behalf of the applicant, Pine Brook Solar LLC, were Travis Mitchell of Environmental Design Partnership of Clifton Park, Gillian Black of Eden Renewables and attorneys James Muscato and Hyde Clarke of Young/Sommer LLC.
Mitchell detailed the subdivision application seeking to divide the approximately 155-acre former Pine Brook Golf Club property at 280 S. Main St. into four lots. The first lot would be approximately 91 acres in size running around the perimeter of the existing property.
The second lot would encompass approximately 57 acres at the center of the existing property with a section reaching down to South Main Street to provide access to the interior of the parcel where Eden Renewables has proposed the development of a solar farm. Eden Renewables has secured a purchase agreement for the lot with the property owners.
The third lot would be approximately two acres large and would encompass the area surrounding the former clubhouse building. Current property owners, 280 South Main Street Ventures, would retain ownership of the first and third lots created by the subdivision. The property owner would seek a zoning change for the two acre lot around the clubhouse to redistrict the property as commercial. No zoning change would be requested for the 91-acre residential lot.
The fourth lot created by the subdivision would be approximately 1.46 acres in size and would be combined with the Antonucci Foods property at 274 S. Main St. to avoid creating a landlocked parcel while allowing the produce wholesaler to potentially undertake an expansion project. Antonucci would seek to have the parcel rezoned commercial.
Black detailed Eden’s plans for the development of a community solar project on the 57-acre center parcel across approximately 32 to 35 acres at the core of the lot with a gap of 15 to 20 feet between each row of the approximately eight and a half feet tall axis tracker solar panel modules the project calls for that follow the path of the sun throughout the day. The solar array would have a capacity of approximately 7.5 MWp and would be capable of powering about 1,225 homes.
The site would be secured with a fence immediately surrounding the solar array and monitored via closed-circuit television cameras. Eden would plant and maintain indigenous wildflowers throughout the area that would be pollinator friendly to bees and butterflies. The solar farm would be screened from sight with additional trees and shrubs planted along the existing border surrounding the former golf course.
During planning and construction, Eden would seek to hire locally. Following construction, local landscapers would be utilized to maintain the property. No on site staff would be employed, with Eden performing routine maintenance at the site a few times a year or as needed.
Black noted the lifetime of the array would be approximately 40 years and Eden would develop a decommissioning plan for the units as part of the project. He highlighted the connection and upgrades to the power grid that Eden would fund to support the project as a valuable asset for the developers pointing to the possibility the company would continue at the site beyond the initial 40 years.
In the event Eden was no longer operating an array on the property, Black said all components of the solar panels and materials from the project would be removed and the site returned to its preexisting condition.
As Black concluded the project briefing, consultant to the Fulton County Planning Department, Sean Geraghty, noted that the only aspect of the project currently under Planning Board review was the subdivision of the property. An application pertaining to the solar project itself has not yet been submitted to the board.
“Before we go much further let’s take a step back,” Geraghty said. “The only aspect of the project that belongs before this board is a subdivision.”
Geraghty went on to point out that currently a solar farm is not a permitted use on the property that is zoned R1 residential.
The property owners previously petitioned the Common Council to rezone the entire 150-acre parcel commercial to allow the solar project. The council conducted a public hearing on a local law to amend the city code to rezone the property in September and ultimately withdrew the legislation after a neighboring property owner raised concerns over the implications of redistricting such a large parcel that touches approximately 24 residential parcels.
The council at the time signaled their willingness to entertain a petition to rezone the section of the property eyed for the solar project following the subdivision of the property.
Muscato on Tuesday argued that the full scope of the project needed to be discussed noting that following the subdivision the developers will apply to the city seeking to rezone the parcel commercial before submitting a special permit application to the Planning Board for the project.
“Unfortunately in this case you can’t look at it as narrowly as, it’s a subdivision and then it’s a zone change and then it’s a site plan review,” Muscato said.
“My concern here is we’re getting too far into this thing,” said Geraghty.
But Geraghty also said that the Planning Board would need to initiate the State Environmental Quality Review on the solar project to consider the subdivision application given the plans for the site.
“The issue becomes the applicant here is a solar park, we know what they do so the subdivision application itself requires this board to go through the SEQR process and you can’t segment SEQR, everybody knows what the end all is here,” Geraghty said. “So at the beginning of the process you still have to look at the overall project scope here.”
Members of the Planning Board debated whether the subdivision application should be considered given the planned use for the site.
“I think that we need to consider the idea that this would be a positive potential use for that property. It’s idle land, it’s been idle land for a considerable number of years now,” said Planning Board Vice Chairman Geoffrey Peck.
Planning Board Chairman James Anderson disagreed, pointing out that the property owners years earlier approached the Planning Board seeking approval for a residential development project. While that project never came to fruition, he argued that the existing parcel is ringed by residential streets where homes would have a clear view of the solar project.
“You’re going to have a solar farm in the middle of the city, who the heck wants to look at it,” said Anderson. “It’s been residential for 50 years. I wouldn’t want this in my backyard.”
“They’ll have to come before the board and present a plan to make it screened properly to make it aesthetically pleasing, but I don’t know that we should stop a subdivision,” said Peck.
Mitchell interjected that plans for the project would include a review of the topography of the land and aerial photography to determine where the project would be visible from to develop screening measures. He noted that feedback on the screening plan would be requested from the board before it was finalized.
“The problem that I see is the companies that have come before you just kind of steamrolled and were not very community friendly, they’re eyesores and you’re telling us you can do it better,” commented board member Peter Semione. “I need to see that. We’re trying to revitalize the city, we’re trying to make it attractive and let’s face it, most people don’t find solar farms attractive.”
“That is part of our process and our responsibility, to show you and make you comfortable with the information that we’re providing, that it’s representative of the project and what we’re proposing,” said Mitchell. “It’s an interactive process.”
Returning to the issue of completing the subdivision review, Peck asked if there was any potential harm in initiating SEQR. Geraghty noted that the board could stop the process at any time if necessary.
“Let’s explore it,” said Peck offering a motion declaring the city Planning Board lead agency to perform SEQR.
Semione seconded the motion, stating that he would like to gather more information.
The motion was ultimately approved 3-2 with Peck, Semione and board member Jonathan Kluska voting in favor of the action. Anderson and board member Matthew Donde voted to reject the motion.
Following the motion’s approval Geraghty stated that he would begin the SEQR paperwork and would submit letters proposing the Planning Board as lead agency and seeking comment from other interested or involved agencies including the city, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
“We know visual impacts are going to be key so we’ll start working on that and communicate additional information,” added Mitchell.