Chautauqua ZBA gives first approval of solar project in split vote

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon Pictured are members of the Chautauqua Town Zoning Board of Appeals.

A newly proposed solar project in the town of Chautauqua is moving ahead.

During the Chautauqua Town Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, board members voted 3-1 to recommend a 3.75 megawatt solar project be constructed at 6455 Cadenza Passage, which is close to Chautauqua-Stedman Road. Board members James Hurley, Charles Krause and Roberta Tenpas voted in favor, while ZBA Chairman Troy Smith voted against it.

The project now will go before the Chautauqua Town Board, which gives final approval for special use permits, which the solar project needs.

During Tuesday’s meeting, about 30 people were in attendance. Drew Rogers with Wendel Engineering had been hired to review the project on behalf of the town. He said the materials have been reviewed to make sure they won’t contain any toxic materials that could potentially impact Chautauqua Lake.

He did admit that the solar panels may contain PFAS, sometimes called “forever chemicals,” but noted there no evidence to suggest those chemicals can ever leak out of the panels. “Unfortunately in today’s world, PFAS compounds are in just about every plastic and rubber material they’re in. But they’re inside the panels and not subject to leaching,” he said.

Rogers said the project has an erosion and sediment control plan which meets state standards.

He also said they have submitted a landscaping plan for visual screening and addresses glare.

Neighbor Bert Rappole expressed his concerns about the proposal. He is currently building a house garage on his property and is concerned that the solar project will hurt his property’s value, which used to be a bed and breakfast.

Another neighbor wrote multiple letters opposing the project, expressing concerns about solar projects.

Resident Karen Engstrom opposed the solar projects stating various environmental objections. “This isn’t just a local issue. It’s a regional issue, it’s a state issue and it’s a national issue,” she said.

Engstrom quoted state Sen. George Borrello, saying that solar projects cannot succeed without heavy governmental subsidies. “Solar projects are not energy companies. They are investment companies because they are guaranteed to have a return, courtesy of the taxpayers. They take money from the poor and give it to the rich through increased taxes and increased utility rates,” she said.

Smith agreed that state leaders are pushing residents away from fossil fuels and into more green energy, but added there are many issues that continue to exist.

Rogers said local residents who have environmental or tax concerns are recommended to bring those objections to state leaders, which can address those issues better than a local government can.

A legal notice that was published in The Post-Journal on May 3 stated the solar project on Cadenza Passage needed a variance. Town attorney Joel Schumaker said that notice was incorrect, that the project only needs a Special Use Permit, which will now be taken up by the town board, with the zoning board’s backing.

The zoning board also listened to presentation about a second solar project, this one at 6049 Wright Road, Dewittville. That project is actually two solar projects, one which is 5 megawatts and the other which is 3 megawatts. They will be placed on a 25 acre parcel.

Rogers will review this project as he did the project on Cadenza Passage. Depending on his review, the zoning board may be ready to vote on recommending a special use permit to the town board as early as next month.

The Chautauqua Town Board has a moratorium on solar projects, but both of these solar projects were submitted before the moratorium was enacted.


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