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Ancram ends period to submit thoughts on proposed solar law

Town Board expected to issue SEQRA declaration Thursday, April 15

ANCRAM — Aligning with its plans to update its zoning law, the Ancram Town Board asked residents to submit their questions and comments regarding the proposed local law to amend its zoning for regulating solar facilities at a public hearing on Thursday, March 18. And on Monday, April 12, the board closed out the nearly month-long period it allowed residents to send in their written comments about the proposed law. 

The solar law

The purpose of the proposed local law is to amend selected provisions of the town’s zoning (which was adopted in November of 2014) as well as to implement Ancram’s updated 2019 Comprehensive Plan, which “outlined a variety of zoning changes needed to address ongoing and new issues facing the town, including solar development in the town.” 

The board adopted a resolution to introduce the local law at its meeting on Thursday, Feb. 18, and scheduled the mandated public hearing for the following month, which was held via Zoom, due to the health crisis. Only a few community members attended.

Ancram town Supervisor Art Bassin said at the hearing, “This is an important local law and deserves great public scrutiny.”

Providing some background, Bassin explained the town zoning law that was adopted in 2014 basically only permitted solar for individual, personal or business use and didn’t allow for any large-scale solar. The current law, he explained, is proposing the town allow up to 10 acres of a community-scale solar operation; it will also address and restrict  utility scale solar operations.

Public comments

Resident Scott Benedict asked about the statement in the local law on how the town is “bolstering the law to counter the new iteration in New York State that’s making a home rule even more indefensible.” 

Speaking as a councilman for the Town Board and chair of the Ancram Zoning Revisions Committee, Hugh Clark said the town’s Comprehensive Plan gives guidance to exclude large scale commercial solar as inconsistent with the community’s rural character. 

What Ancram is doing, he said, is using the state’s Agriculture and Market Laws and paying attention to environmental and agricultural concerns to balance the state’s push for macro-scale solar.

“It’s a little complex, but basically, while we prohibit utility scale — the megawattage, if you will — at the same time, we understand that the state can override local concerns and even indeed local laws,” Clark said. “However, as we’re all aware, the state has quite a body of policies and indeed even laws that show concern for the environment… and in the text of the law, dealing with the utility scale, we recognize that the state may override us, but when they do, we push that they must still apply state policies and priorities in terms of the environment, in terms of agriculture, other points that somewhat cancel out their ability to override on the solar front.”

Next steps

Benedict later asked what the next step would be for finalizing or adopting the local law. 

Clark said there are a number of steps the Town Board took at its Feb. 18 meeting, including referring the proposal for the local law to the Columbia County Planning Board and the Ancram Planning Board and other steps related to the required State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process. Having taken several steps pertaining to SEQRA and gotten approval from the Columbia County Planning Board to move forward, Clark said the Town Board is now waiting for its Planning Board to respond. 

SEQRA,

April 15 meeting

Next, he said the Town Board will be doing parts two and three of the environmental assessment form (EAF). 

Since he anticipates that the law itself would produce no negative environmental effects, Clark said the Town Board will likely issue a negative SEQRA declaration, which will pave the way for the town to give final consideration to adopt or not adopt the law. He added that he expects this to happen at the board’s meeting on Thursday, April 15, at 7 p.m.

Responding to a question submitted in the hearing’s chat box about whether the local law is available online, Bassin confirmed that the local law can be found online on the Town of Ancram website, www.ancramny.org, as can Clark’s memorandum on the local law.

Since there were no other comments, the board closed the public hearing around 6:50 p.m. While the spoken portion of the  hearing was closed, Clark recommended the board hold the hearing open for additional written comments to be submitted until Monday, April 12, to give people more time to send in their concerns and questions.

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