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Cape zoning officials mull revision of solar development rules as confusion continues

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CAPE VINCENT — Yet another improperly issued work permit for a solar power project — this time for town Supervisor Urban C. Hirschey’s residential photovoltaic system — is prompting local zoning officials to consider aligning the local law with state guidelines.

Mr. Hirschey said he took down his pole-mounted solar panel array at his Tibbetts Point Road home last month upon learning it was an illegal project under Cape Vincent’s new zoning law.

“I commissioned Fourth Coast to do the work. They got a permit from the county and a permit from the town,” Mr. Hirschey said.

What he and his renewable energy consultants with Fourth Coast Inc., Clayton, did not know at the time was that Cape Vincent’s zoning enforcement officer, James G. Millington Jr., should never have issued that work permit in April in the first place.

“If you look at page 54, you can do it; but if you look at another page, it says you need to go through an additional process if you’re in the Lake Front District. So I took it down,” Mr. Hirschey said.

Mr. Hirschey now is seeking a special-use permit and zoning variance from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals to reinstall his 7.2-kilowatt photovoltaic system.

Under Cape Vincent’s zoning law, ground-based — as opposed to roof-mounted — solar arrays over 100 square feet in size are not allowed in the lake and river district, which is where Mr. Hirschey’s home is.

While arrays up to 100 square feet are allowed in the district, such projects require a special-use permit. Only one ground-mounted array per 10,000-square-foot lot, about a quarter of an acre, is permitted.

Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman R. Dennis Faulknham said Mr. Hirschey’s solar array is 33.4 feet by 16.3 feet — approximately 544 square feet — but it would stand on a 14-acre lot and be unlikely to disturb anybody’s view.

Also, he said, Mr. Hirschey’s 7.2-kilowatt photovoltaic system would be close to the smallest residential solar project recommended by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Mr. Faulknham acknowledged that some mistakes were made by the town zoning officer who issued the work permit.

A similar permitting error was made when Cape Vincent resident and business owner Roger D. Alexander was granted permits to install two solar panel arrays to power his County Route 7 mobile home park.

Partly because of confusions stemming from Cape Vincent’s complete overhaul of its zoning law last year, Mr. Millington had granted an extension to Mr. Alexander’s work permit in July.

Several residents, including Mr. Alexander’s County Route 7 neighbor, Mary C. Grogan, argued that Mr. Alexander had missed the permit renewal deadline under the old law and that the project also should have been classified a commercial project that requires a site plan review by the Planning Board.

The Zoning Board of Appeals voted to dismiss Mrs. Grogan’s formal challenge at its Oct. 7 meeting and upheld Mr. Alexander’s permit “as issued, even with errors.”

Mr. Faulknham said that he and a Planning Board official have been meeting with Mr. Millington once a month to bring the zoning officer up to speed with Cape Vincent’s zoning laws.

Additionally, Cape Vincent officials will consider updating town rules set for solar energy conversion system installations to align local requirements with NYSERDA guidelines to perhaps reduce further confusions, he said.

The ZBA will discuss this matter further, as well as Mr. Hirschey’s case, at its next meeting Nov. 4.

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