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Wheatfield plans to adopt solar power restrictions

WHEATFIELD - A town law restricting some types of solar power installations is expected to be voted on by the Wheatfield Town Board Dec. 19.

Monday, a public hearing on the 13-page measure drew little response, but Andrew C. Reilly, a town planning consultant, said there could be some changes in the proposed law before the vote, based on questions raised by a town focus group.

The town's only existing law pertaining to solar power is a single line in the zoning code barring neighbors from blocking the sun from reaching a power panel.

"Over the last year or so, there have been several instances of companies or individuals coming into the town to contract with farmers (for solar installations)," Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said. "We knew we had to do something."

The proposed measure is posted in full on the town's website.

It requires Planning Board approvals for ground-based solar systems as well as larger solar panel farms meant to generate large supplies of electricity for sale into the state power grid.

Roof-mounted solar panels, as well as those mounted on walls or integrated within building materials, won't need to go before the Planning Board and would be approved through the building permit process, Reilly said.

Ground-based systems in a residential area would have to be placed in a side or back yard, but the law likely will be amended to limit them to 1,200 square feet of lot coverage. "You can't put a ground-mounted system in front of your house," Reilly said.

Utility-grade systems would be located only on lots that are at least 5 acres, and they must be located at least 100 feet from property lines, 250 feet from any neighbor's structure, and at least 500 feet from any home, school or park, unless a neighbor agrees to allow smaller buffer zones.

Cliffe said the Town Board will accept comments until the Dec. 19 meeting. He wants action before the end of the year "so people can make decisions and (know) what they can build and what's lawful to build next year."

On another area of the town's zoning code, the board voted Monday to adopt a new set of rules for cluster subdivisions, which are those where the minimum lot size is smaller than normal. However, the minimum lot sizes to be permitted in each zone have been questioned and might be changed later, Reilly said.

The law, on which the town has been working for well over a year, says the Town Board will decide whether to permit a cluster, and the Town Board could even require it.

The new law requires at least 40 percent of the area of the cluster subdivision, also known as a "conservation subdivision," to be set aside for common use or as open space, and unusable areas such as wetlands or retention ponds won't count toward the 40 percent.

The law attempts to protect farmland and "environmentally sensitive areas," while providing for "a diversity of lot sizes, housing choices and building densities, to accommodate a variety of age and income groups."


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