B y Dan King

Whitehall town officials want to figure out some rules and regulations before allowing new solar projects to go forward.

The town board voted 4-1, after nearly two hours of discussion last Wednesday, to set a public hearing for June 15 regarding a proposed six-month moratorium on solar farms. Councilman Dave Hollister was the only member opposed to the measure.

“If anyone in this crowd wants to put one up, I think they should be able to,” Hollister said. “There’s still this thing called freedom in this country – freedom to do what you want with your own land.”

The other four board members said the moratorium is being proposed so the town can establish a committee to look at potential regulations related to aesthetics and quality of life impacts of solar farms.

“As chief officer of the town, I felt the urge to get this information so there wasn’t a public lynching,” said Supervisor George Armstrong.

Councilwoman Stephanie Safka said: “Down the road I don’t think I want half of Whitehall turned into a solar farm.”

If the board votes to implement the moratorium, it would not impact the three projects that have already come before the planning board. Those projects are being done on the properties of John Millett, Jr., Joe Terry and Levi Cahan. The moratorium also would not impact someone who wanted to put solar panels on their roof for the purpose of lowering their own electric bill.

“This is a land-use moratorium,” said Erika Sellar-Ryan, town attorney. “It would put a freeze on any construction or permits until the town can come up with regulations. It doesn’t mean that these uses will not be allowed in the future … There’s no harm in setting this public hearing, because it will generate more talk.”

Borrego Solar is the group involved in the Millett, Terry and Cahan projects. Rob Garrity, a project developer for Borrego Solar, said the group has never run into a potential moratorium on any of its projects before. Garrity said if the town hadn’t exempted those three projects “we would not be able to build these projects in Whitehall.”

Safka said she favored grandfathering in the three projects that were already underway because “once they’re built, we can see the impact on the town.”

Prior to discussing the moratorium, town officials discussed the financial side of solar farms. However, Sellar-Ryan stressed that finances had nothing to do with the proposed land-use moratorium.

The town, school district and county all grant tax exemptions for solar farms.

“It’s definitely coming to New York,” said Millett, whose project will be featured in a national solar magazine. “We need something in Whitehall. Too many businesses have left town.”Millett argued that his project, which is the second largest in the state, has had a positive economic impact already. The project required workers from various local businesses, including Doran Brothers, Gould’s Landscaping, St. Anne Trucking, and Galusha and Sons Construction, among many others.

Garrity pointed out that the projects bring some revenue to the town, because Borrego pays for the taxes that accompany an increase in assessed value. For example, if a property went from $200,000 of assessed value to $400,000 of assessed value, Borrego would pay the taxes on the extra $200,000.

“Borrego isn’t a money-grabbing company like some of these others, they’ve been a stand-up company,” Cahan said.

The public hearing on the proposed six-month land use moratorium will take place Wednesday, June 15 at 7 p.m. at the Whitehall Municipal Building. The town board will hear the opinions of members of the public and then vote on whether to implement the moratorium.

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