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County planning board approves new Somerset law

Two zoning amendments for the town of Somerset – including an updated wind energy conservation system law – were approved at Monday’s Niagara County Planning Board meeting.

Michael Norris, attorney for the town, appeared before the board to discuss the two resolutions.

The law, being proposed by Somerset, would affect every future wind energy project for the town, not just the proposed Lighthouse Wind project.

Norris said the law would supersede the town’s current wind energy conservation system law. However, that law would still be on the books in case a court or agency “ever determined the new law, if adopted, there is a violation or issue with that.”

Fifty-four pages in length, Norris called the new law “very comprehensive.” He said the document includes 29 items laid out by the Somerset Town Board, including determining what impact development would have on various areas such as the agricultural community, Lake Ontario, the shoreline where there is residential housing and the town’s lake revitalization program.

The new law also includes an “extensive application process” where any wind developer would have to come forward and provide studies under the law. Norris said these would include a baseline assessment on property values and they would need to conduct a health study individuals can volunteer to take part in.

Another requirement deals with environmental protection for bats and birds. Norris said there is a major migratory route through Somerset where “millions of birds fly through that path in the spring and fall.”

“(The law) would require any developer to set forth studies for us so the town board could see that,” he said.

The law is in conjunction with the town’s comprehensive master plan and works along with Article 10, a state law that creates a board of five members of the governor’s administration and two local representatives that oversee the type of projects that would generate greater than 25 megawatts, Norris said.

He said only if they deem Somerset’s law is “dually burdensome with proper findings” can the state set the local law aside. When asked if the law meets that, Norris said “in this case we believe the law we put forward is reasonable, considering all the factors of a wind development project coming into a community such as the town of Somerset.”

“In the town’s opinion, this will help provide protection to both the residents, as well as nature,” he said.

The Niagara County Planing Board approved the amendment unanimously. Somerset will hold a public hearing on this matter at 6:30 p.m. Monday. The town is expected to adopt the law as early as Feb. 10.

Also approved was a zoning text amendment to Somerset’s “violations: penalties for offenses” provision in the town code. This amendment would reduce fines for violations from a maximum of $350 to $250 and reduces the maximum imprisonment term from six months to 15 days.

Norris said the amendment also includes issuing a weekly violation fee of $250 per incident.

When asked why the change is occurring, Norris said this makes Somerset’s code “more consistent” with other municipalities, including the town of Lockport.

Somerset will hold a public hearing on the change Feb. 10.