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Town council delays action on scenic designation and tall structures amendment

CLAYTON – The Town Council delayed taking any action on whether to apply for scenic-area designation pending an information session in June.

A small crowd of people with concerns about the town pursuing a Scenic Area of Statewide Significance designation through the state Department of State waited outside Wednesday while officials held an executive session for personnel matters, but left after board members said they would schedule the information session and take no action on the designation during the meeting.

Town Supervisor David M. Storandt Jr., who recognized that there was “quite a bit of dialogue in the past 48 hours” from emails sent by residents, said board members had their own concerns about the designation they wanted to address through their research and would present their findings at the 6 p.m. June 14 session as part of their regular meeting.

“So that everyone knows the truth and nothing but the truth so we can move forward,” said Councilman Robert W. Cantwell III. “We’re always looking for what’s best for the public.”

Rather than including public discussion at the informational session, the board encouraged residents to send in their questions ahead of time so it can prepare its answers.

Mr. Storandt said the board plans to invite state Department of State officials and local officials from the Hudson Valley and East Hampton on Long Island, the only two areas to receive a SASS designation, to the session to participate in the discussion panel and help answer questions.

Questions can be submitted at the town office or to support@townofclayton.com.

“We’re going to err on the side of caution. We’re not going to shoot ourselves in the foot,” said Councilman Lance J. Peterson. “We just feel we need to give this more attention.”

According to the state Department of State website, projects that require state or federal actions, including indirect actions, permits or funding, in areas with SASS designations would require additional review.

Mr. Storandt said Avangrid Renewables’ proposed Horse Creek Wind Farm project in the towns of Clayton, Orleans, Brownville and Lyme encouraged the board to revisit the designation.

“Now we have turbines out here providing a unified purpose to revisit the topic,” he said.

Ten municipalities in 2015 were involved in a SASS designation project for the Thousand Islands Region, but nearly all voted to withdraw from the project, with many officials arguing that designation would add an additional layer of bureaucracy.

Michael C. Ringer, owner of the St. Lawrence Art Galleries in Clayton, Alexandria Bay and Watertown, said he shared that sentiment and felt it would overlap with the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. Mr. Ringer also said he felt the designation would not impede wind energy facility development in the town.

“It’s not that simple,” he said.

The board later held a public hearing after another executive session pertaining to personnel matters for the proposed amendment 40 for “tall structure” regulation, which would forbid commercial wind development in the town, but took no action on it.

Mr. Storandt said the board wanted to review comments from the County Planning Board before making a decision, but planned to consider its adoption at the May 10 meeting.

The amendment would require property owners who want to build structures taller than 35 feet to apply for a special use permit from the Joint Town and Village Planning Board and an area variance from the Joint Zoning Board of Appeals for structures taller than 250 feet. Property owners would be allowed to construct wind energy facilities on-site for their own energy consumption and to offset expenses, but would not be allowed to build facilities used primarily for selling electricity back to the grid without a use variance from the zoning board.

“We’re trying not to have the industrial development of turbines just for power grid consumption, particularly for agricultural parcels.” Mr. Storandt said. “We are trying to allow landowners some means of offsetting their power (expenses).”

Only two residents spoke during the public hearing: Cindy L. Grant and Kenneth J. Knapp, both expressing their support.

“Thank you very much for all of your hard work,” Mrs. Grant said. “We can be a lot meaner to (Avangrid Renewables).”