Despite reducing tree removal and eliminating encroachment in the buffer, the Mount Kisco Planning Board heard sharp criticisms last week from residents and other interested parties against a proposed solar farm on a 25-acre parcel.
Public speakers at the continuation of the public hearing last Tuesday evening for SCS Sarles St. LLC’s proposed solar array at 180 S. Bedford Rd. remained adamant that removal of the 546 trees, including 192 specimen trees, was excessive. Removing that number of trees on the 25-acre parcel would also threaten the habitat for a wide variety of species, some participants argued.
“There is a responsible way to do solar and it’s not by trading green for green and putting a solar farm in the middle of a forest on top of a hill with steep slopes on every side,” said Anne Niemann, a member of the neighboring Marsh Sanctuary’s board of directors. “It must be done responsibly and that means on existing landscapes and rooftops.”
Several speakers continued to call for the Planning Board to make a positive declaration under the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), which means that a far more detailed analysis is needed because of potential adverse environmental impacts.
Nearby resident George Coppola said the proposed replanting of trees by the applicant would be inadequate in size and scope and called the proposal “a grotesque environmental and ecological rape.”
“There is no way that the trees that they plant will come up to more than a percent of the biomass you’ll be removing and that’s what’s important,” Coppola said. “We’ll all be dead before those trees that are planted are mature.”
SCS Sarles St. representatives said they have listened to the concerns raised by the board and the public and have reduced the number of trees slated for removal from 684 living trees and 40 dead trees to 546 living trees and 33 dead ones.
Furthermore, the reduction of just over 100 panels and the reconfiguration of the stormwater facilities enabled the applicant’s professionals to have no encroachment into the property’s 200-foot buffer. Stormwater retention basins have been replaced with a subsurface system that will eliminate visual impacts.
William Null, the attorney for the applicant, said the project also preserves nearly 17 acres of the site as open space, and his client will receive credit for specimen trees preserved under the village’s code.
“We need to balance all these issues while understanding we’re trying to minimize the extent to which trees are removed for a solar field,” Null said. “Shade is not something that works. Obviously, it involves significantly less tree removal than would a residential development on this site, but we’re dealing with what the impacts are for this particular project as well as understanding the context of the importance of a solar field for community solar being considered in the region and what the impacts are.”
Most Planning Board members who spoke said they were encouraged by the revisions to the plan that seeks to limit impacts. However, board member Michael McGuirk was concerned that the tree mitigation plan was not compliant with the village’s regulations.
While that doesn’t necessarily stop the project for him, McGuirk said the village needs to decide how the mitigation is achieved, and if the applicant pays a fee, where else in the village would hundreds of trees be planted.
“I think everybody on the board and everybody on the applicant’s team has to know that trying to install a Tier 3 solar facility in the middle of a forest was going to be a much heavier lift than putting it on a couple of acres of a parking lot,” McGuirk said.
Board Chairman Michael Bonforte reminded the public and fellow board members that a solar farm on at least 25 acres in the Conservation District is a permitted use.
“This development is still going to take down trees, okay, and if they replace them somewhere else or contribute to a fund, it’s a separate issue,” he said.
Complicating the issue is the status of the stalled Homeland Towers cell tower project for a different portion of the same parcel. Last February, Homeland Towers began searching for an alternative site to address the coverage gap along the Route 172 corridor. However, they have not kept up to date with their escrow fund and the board has refused to entertain the application under those circumstances.
If the cell tower application were to move forward, it could impact the board’s decision on whether to make a positive or negative declaration under SEQRA.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/