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Wheatfield approves moratorium on ground-based solar as neighbors wrangle

WHEATFIELD – The Town Board passed a six-month moratorium on ground-based solar panels Monday, as a man who installed one last year and his neighbor aired their differences during a public hearing.

The purpose of the moratorium is to give a town committee called the Energy Application Focus Group time to create an amendment to the town zoning ordinance that would regulate the location of such panels. Several other towns have been considering similar laws in response to the increasing number of solar panels.

Stuart Newman, of Ward Road, said he installed a 10-by-20-foot solar panel 75 feet behind his house last year. A neighbor, Dan Schroeder, objected to the glare, obtained a variance and erected an 8-foot fence and now wants to erect a pole barn.

Schroeder said, “Now, he’s trying to dictate what I do with my own property. He’s threatening a lawsuit over it.”

Newman said the fence already blocks sunlight to his panels. “In the winter, it blocks two-thirds of the panel,” Newman said.

“We do actually have a code that says you can’t do that,” Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said. The town already has a provision in the zoning law that is supposed to guarantee every property three hours of sunlight every day.

Newman said, “I did what I thought was right. Even if you do what you think is right, your neighbor can still mess up your investment.”

He said that he spent $6,000 on the panels and that it would cost an additional $4,000 to move them to the roof of his house. Roof-mounted solar panels would not be affected by the moratorium or the proposed law.

Newman said Schroeder knew about the solar panels before he erected them. He said the Zoning Board of Appeals made him double the normally required setback for an accessory structure.

Cliffe and Andrew C. Reilly, the town’s planning consultant, urged both men to make their input available to the focus group preparing the law. “We need input from people who have actually experienced this,” Reilly said.

Also, Town Engineer Timothy J. Zuber reported that the Planning Board approved the site plan for the two 96,000-square-foot air-supported sports domes to be built behind the Summit mall on Williams Road. The 75-foot-high domes will contain athletic fields and courts, and will be connected to the mall by a small structure, Zuber said.