Environmental advocates and neighbors near the site of a proposed Mount Kisco solar farm warned the village’s Planning Board of landscape degradation and displacement of animals if the project is allowed to proceed.
During a public hearing last Tuesday for SCS Sarles Street’s application for a 2.6-megawatt solar array on a portion of 25 acres at 180 S. Bedford Rd., residents, as well as representatives of the neighboring Marsh Sanctuary, harshly criticized the proposal that would remove 546 living trees from the site.
Nigel Sizer, a forest ecologist and a Marsh Sanctuary board member, said the proposal is being billed as a green and environmentally sound initiative but “gives a bad name to solar.”
“Across our county and state are countless sites where solar should be developed that will involve the cutting of not one large tree, that will not neighbor important conservation areas, that will not abut the houses of families,” Sizer said. “There is simply no good reason or justification for clearing forests to locate a solar plant.”
The applicant resubmitted an application in May that removed all panels from the 200-foot buffer, reduced the number of trees to be cleared by 138, lowered the number of trees that would be cleared from the buffer from 164 to 83 and limited steep slope disturbance from 3.7 to 2.9 acres.
Most of the 5,600 panels would be located on a portion of the land that once was the site of a house before its demolition, said project engineer Rich Williams of Insite Engineering. Furthermore, the panels would reach a height of seven feet, seven inches, making them difficult to see by the closest neighbors, he said.
Williams said other impacts would be negligible because there is no sewer or water demand and it would generate virtually no traffic except for a single vehicle that would visit the site a few times a year to allow personnel to check the panels.
“In fact, this is a source of clean renewable energy,” Williams said. “It’s going to generate energy for the community without generating fossil fuels. It’s actually a benefit of the application.”
Complicating the project is the uncertain status of the cell tower proposed by Homeland Towers for a different portion of the same site. Homeland Towers has not appeared before the Planning Board since February as it searches for alternative sites; however, it has also failed to maintain a minimum balance in its escrow account, which has knocked them off multiple agendas.
Last week, the Planning Board gave no indication when it might reach a decision on whether to issue a negative or positive declaration relating to the solar farm under the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
One nearby resident, David Grant, said he can’t understand why the village would even consider allowing a solar array that is adjacent to a residential neighborhood.
He was also disturbed by some positive comments from Planning Board members about the revised proposal.
“It’s adjacent to our houses. It’s not minimal, it’s not low impact,” Grant said. “This is a big friggin’ deal and listening to come of the comments board members have made, it’s hard for me to conclude that some of you haven’t made up your mind and that’s really, really disappointing.”
While board member Ralph Vigliotti said he was concerned about protecting as much of the forest as possible as well as the neighbors’ quality of life, others signaled that the revised proposal has made progress. Board member Crystal Pickard said that the application “has come a long way” and complimented SCS Sarles for reducing tree clearance and disturbance.
“You know we don’t like to cut down trees and this is a really low-impact use for this site, especially to preserve that 17-plus acres,” Pickard said. “I appreciate it a lot.”
A couple of public speakers raised the issue that the company that would install the solar panels, Sunrise Community Solar of Briarcliff Manor, has as one of its principals the Planning Board’s former chair Doug Hertz. Hertz resigned last February before the village Board of Ethics concluded he had a conflict of interest.
Despite his resignation more than eight months ago, resident Harry McCartney said the Board of Ethics’ advisory opinion was that the conflict could never be completely mitigated. He asked the board to reject the application.
“If we are not at local levels, at state levels, at federal levels, if we are not operating based on honesty and integrity, we are finished as a village, as a town,” McCartney said.
Village Attorney Whitney Singleton said the Planning Board has limited jurisdiction, which is to review the application. The courts will decide on the litigation that has been filed related to the conflict and other issues, he said.
The hearing was adjourned until Nov. 9.
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/