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Cape ZBA: Roger Alexander’s solar project permit “stands as issued, even with errors”

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CAPE VINCENT — Town zoning officials upheld Roger D. Alexander’s permit for a solar array project Monday night despite admitting to mistakes made by the zoning enforcement officers who approved the paperwork.

Mr. Alexander, owner of Lazy Acres Mobile Home Park, plans to install two 720-square-foot solar panel arrays to offset his mobile home park’s electric bills by selling the power to National Grid.

The permit was challenged by Mary C. Grogan — who had previously challenged her County Route 7 neighbor’s residential wind turbine in 2009 — and prompted a formal hearing before the Cape Vincent Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday night.

“Investment has gone into this because of our paperwork saying, ‘Go ahead.’ We, the town, own the ‘Go ahead.’ We do take some of the blame for this getting this far,” said ZBA Chairman R. Dennis Faulknham.

The vote was 4-1, with ZBA member Hester M. Chase casting the sole “nay.”

“I think the permit, there’s just too much that’s wrong with it. It should be denied so we can save some face in our local government. Every other office has mishandled it,” she said before the vote.

Mr. Alexander was notified last week of Mrs. Grogan’s challenge but did not attend Monday night’s ZBA meeting.

Mrs. Grogan vowed to sue to town government for violating its own zoning law.

“I’m going to get a lawyer,” she said Monday night. “I have to stop it. It’s illegal.”

Mr. Alexander had been issued his first permit July 18, 2012, by the town’s former zoning enforcement officer, Edward P. Bender, despite confusion as to whether the project should be classified as a residential or commercial project.

On the original permit, both “residential” and “commercial” boxes were checked as the proposed use.

“I personally thought it was wrong, but it was done,” Mr. Faulknham said. “In my mind, it should have been commercial, but it wasn’t.”

Commercial projects in the Riverfront District require a site plan review under town law.

But the Planning Board recently determined that the project was not subject to a site plan review because Mr. Alexander already had been issued what officials viewed as a valid, renewed permit for the work.

Mr. Alexander’s work permit was granted an extension last July by current zoning officer James G. Millington Jr.

However, not only does the renewed permit fail to specify a proposed use, but there is some question as to whether it was issued properly. Some argue that the proposed project should fall under Cape Vincent’s old law instead of the revised zoning rules.

Cape Vincent’s old town zoning law required permits to be renewed within six months of issuance. The new zoning law, which went into effect only two weeks after Mr. Alexander received his first permit, gives applicants a full year until they need an extension.

“Six months after that was issued under the old law, Mr. Alexander’s representative went to the town office and asked for an extension. Our zoning officer made a mistake in saying ‘well, under the new law, you don’t need it for a whole year,’ and sent him away,” Mr. Faulknham said. “In my mind, that would never be defend-able in court by anybody.”

ZBA member Joseph Martin said that Mr. Alexander’s representative came to the town in January for a renewal of the permit “with every intention of following the law” and that he believes that “the permits were issued as valid as they could be with the information presented.”

“The permit stands as issued, even with errors. It’s not a perfect world,” he said. “I’m sorry we’re not perfect.”

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