Residents remain concerned as solar farm approval moves forward

Feb 14, 2018

While the site plan for a solar farm in Rochester is set to be approved in March, residents remain worried about the impact it will have on their lives.

A longstanding public hearing for a solar farm on Mendell Road, to be operated by Borrego Solar, came to a close on Feb. 13, when the Planning Board closed the hearing and noted that they would move forward with a draft site plan approval. The site plan is likely to be formally approved at the board's March 13 meeting, after a draft of the approval  is reviewed.

Planning Board Chair Arnie Johnson said that essentially, the board member's hands are tied when it comes to solar farms. "Our job is to make sure the project meets the necessary bylaws and regulations," he said. "That's all we have jurisdiction over."

Mendell Road resident Kim Bindas said that she had submitted a packet of information on solar farms to the board, and asked if they had received it. Planning Board member Gary Florindo was unaware of the packet; fellow member John DiMaggio said he had received it, and would be reviewing it.

"I put a lot of time and effort into that research," Bindas said, "and I request you take it into consideration when you consider approval of the project."

Board members agreed that they would do so.

When other residents asked how an industrial solar farm could be placed in the middle of a residentially-zoned area, Johnson said it was effectively by order of the state. "This state is pro-solar. They've said that solar farms can go almost anywhere in towns, the exception being areas zoned as limited-commercial."

When the reply of "I don't like this state," came back, the board laughed.

"You and I are on the same side of the table on that one," Johnson said.

Borrego Solar representative Steve Long said that his company had obeyed all of the rules set forth for them by the Planning Board. "I've done projects in several states, and this was by far the strictest project I've worked on," he said. "We were handed requirements, met them, were handed more requirements, and met those. [Property owner Gibbs Bray] is trying to do what he wants with his property, and we're working with him on what he has chosen to do."

Bindas said that while she understood Bray's property rights, she had rights as a landowner as well. "This is all I have," she said. "It's going to affect our property values, and more. It's taking away from everything. We ask that you take that into consideration as you make your decision."

Florindo expressed frustration with his limits on stopping the project. "I don't want any of you to think that we aren't concerned about you," he said. "I'm at a loss. There are certain things we have to do as a board...People are putting their land up to be used this way, but I wonder if this town will become all stockade fences. I remember when it was barbed wire and cows, and frankly I'd prefer it that way. But," he told the audience, "if this does go through, I'll personally be there to make sure it's done right."