The Lansing Town Council held a public hearing on Sept. 18 to further discuss a draft of a local law that would amend the town’s zoning ordinance to permit and regulate any commercial medium- and large-scale solar and/or wind energy projects in the town.
The crux of the conversation that evening centered on whether or not the town should incorporate an acreage limit for which these projects can be built on. If a limit were to be set, the town would consider capping it at 10 acres.
Solar companies, such as CS Energy, are not in favor of a possible acreage limit. CS Energy project developer Mitch Quine, who has spoken about the drafted law at previous meetings, said if an acreage limit were to be established, the company would be prohibited from developing solar projects in the town.
Connie Wilcox, chairwoman of the town’s Agriculture Committee, said the overall proposition of allowing medium- and large-scale solar projects to be built on farmland would be detrimental to the farming community in a couple of ways.
“Taking big amounts of farmland is going to definitely affect their economy,” Wilcox said. “Yes, they’re going to get paid for it, but how soon are these projects going to be up and running?”
“The other part of it is, the farmers that lease land are losing a lot of their land, because landowners are looking towards leasing land to the solar projects. So that’s a big concern, because they’ve spent years renting the same farmland and they’ve put a lot of money into getting that soil up to standard where they can raise their crops.”
Wilcox also mentioned that she was not sure of how much of the input from the local farmers was considered in the drafting of the law, and that it is important for the council to listen to their viewpoints.
“They’ve had comments. I just don’t know how many of them were paid attention to when you drafted the law or when the law was drafted,” she said. “Sometimes … it’s tiresome for them to give their input, and then it’s really just sort of shoved aside.”
Bob Munson, a farmer in the Lansing community, was present at the meeting. Munson said he would like to have the choice of how his land should be utilized.
“I’d like to have the opportunity to use my own land for what I want to use it for,” Munson said.
The Town Council then turned to Planning Director CJ Randall for her thoughts on the drafted law. Randall said the council had three options, the first being that the council does not adopt the drafted law.
“The existing land use ordinance does include solar commercial and solar residential as allowed uses,” Randall said. “Although, they are not defined, so it would be helpful to have some definitions. That will allow the Planning Board to keep reviewing commercial projects via site plan review. They could also use the criteria that we develop as part of this.”
“Along with that, it would be assumed that the county planning board would probably continue to make those recommendations for each and every one that came along, just like they did before, to limit the project size to 10 acres or less. So it would essentially give the Planning Board discretion saying, ‘You know what, we’re going to stick with the county’s recommendation. We’re going to deny this project because it exceeds the county-recommended threshold, and it will be the status quo we’ll continue [to abide by]. That’s not a lot of regulatory certainty, both for the town or the solar developers, though.”
The second option would be to set the acreage limit from anywhere between 10 and 25 acres, which Randall said that would be the most reasonable range. The third option would be for the council to not set an acreage limit, which she said would “open up the door to fairly substantial solar projects.”
Councilman Joseph Wetmore said the protection of prime soil farmland is a priority and that he is concerned over the possibility of the town not having control over proposed large-scale solar projects. Wetmore said he would like to see the council implement a 25-acre limit.
“We make a strong statement saying, ‘You have to get a variance in order to change this. You can’t just go to the Planning Board and have them change it,’” Wetmore said.
Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz said she agreed that a 25-acre limit would be the best choice, although she would still have some apprehensions about such a limit. Binkewicz said she is “concerned about many 25-acre installations, which could have a similar negative effect” on agricultural land.
The Town Council chose to table the drafted law for future discussion at a later meeting.
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