A proposed solar farm near the Mount Kisco-Bedford border received considerable pushback last week after neighbors learned that the property owner has leased another portion of the land for the potential construction of a cell tower.
Residents who live near the site of the vacant 25-acre parcel owned by Skull Island Partners at 180 S. Bedford Rd. near Sarles Street argued to the Mount Kisco Planning Board that the two proposals and their potential environmental impacts must be analyzed in tandem. The parcel is in the Conservation Development district.
Sunrise Community Solar of Briarcliff Manor is looking to install a 2.5 million-kilowatt ground-mounted solar array on about 5.7 acres of the site. The array would generate enough power for about 350 private homes.
However, it wasn’t until the village posted the Planning Board packet for last Tuesday’s meeting on its website on July 10 that residents learned that Homeland Towers has approached Mount Kisco officials about using roughly 4,000 square feet of the same parcel for a wireless antenna facility. The cell tower would sit northeast of the solar panels.
While Homeland Towers has yet to submit a formal application to the village, the firm’s intentions were raised in June 12 and July 2 letters from attorney William Null, representing Sunrise Community Solar. Null argued the two projects aren’t linked.
“The only similarity between the two ‘actions’ is they are located adjacent to one another, yet they are distinctly different,” Null stated in the July 2 letter. “Neither ‘action’ depends upon the other in order to be constructed. They are presented by unrelated entities and have separate timelines for construction.”
Residents lodged repeated objections during the opening of the July 14 public hearing, particularly critical of the cell tower revelation. Sarles Street resident Rex Pietrobono, whose home is closest the parcel, said he had been prepared to work with the landowner to resolve potential quality-of-life and environmental concerns posed by the solar farm, but the “clandestinely expanded” use of the land is a deal-breaker.
“They basically just killed the deal as far as I’m concerned by not disclosing previously the overall plan,” Pietrobono said. “They basically just segmented it, and not only just segment it, they tried to justify it, too, which is just absurd to me.”
Steven Waldinger, an attorney representing 86 single-family homeowners belonging to the nearby Mount Kisco Chase Homeowners Association, said segmented review of the two projects is inconsistent with the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and the municipality’s zoning ordinance.
He said the hearing should be adjourned until it is known whether Homeland Towers will submit an application and more information about that application is known.
“It is clear that the Planning Board’s review of the solar farm without considering the impacts of the potential cell tower application at the same time, or any other use of the remaining acreage of the property, constitutes segmented review,” Waldinger said.
Waldinger and Brentwood Court resident George Coppola, whose backyard abuts the Marsh Sanctuary and the 25-acre parcel, also raised concerns about potential environmental impacts. Coppola said eliminating close to 700 trees amounts to a “grotesque environmental insult” along with potential noise emitted by the solar panels.
“You have a residential area and you’re putting in a power plant,” Coppola said. “Now you can call it a solar farm, which is all warm and fuzzy, and people think green, but it is in essence a power plant and I don’t relish the fact in the future having to say to a prospective buyer ‘Oh, by the way, you’re right next door to a power plant and a cell tower.’”
Planning Board Chairman John Bainlardi said the segmentation issue will be analyzed by the board and its counsel.
“That will be a question that will be taken into consideration by the board as to procedurally how we need to proceed with the analysis in compliance with our obligations under SEQRA as to whether or not we need to do anything further to avoid an impermissible segmentation,” Bainlardi said.
During a presentation at the start of the hearing, Null said there will be no impacts on local schools, and after construction, none on traffic. Maintenance on the panels will be conducted no more than once a year.
The applicant is planning four drainage basins to improve stormwater management in the area. There will be screening as a result of 122 shrubs and 69 trees.
In addition to site plan approval, Sunshine must also obtain a special permit and two variances, a 72-foot variance into the 200-foot buffer and a six-inch variance for the seven-foot fence around the panels.
The hearing was adjourned until Aug. 11.