July 9, 2019
Personnel: employment of a particular person
The entire meeting was devoted to public hearings for the proposed Tree and Woodland Preservation Law and Solar Law.
What follows is a short summary of both hearings; the meeting lasted five hours. Click here to view the video of the hearings.
(Note: Susan Siegel, the person writing this summary, is a member of Advocates for a Better Yorktown (ABY), the group that has been actively promoting the adoption of the Tree Law and is opposed to certain provisions of the Solar Law.)
Most of the speakers, about 15, spoke in support of a stronger law. Four speakers felt that either that the current law was sufficient or too onerous.
In support of the law, two residents spoke about how their houses experienced flooding after neighbors cut down trees on their property. Linda Miller, a member of ABY, spoke about the functional benefits that woodlands provide and Susan Siegel, citing some examples of where the Planning Board failed to require a mitigation plan, spoke about the need for stronger mitigation when trees and woodlands are removed, Maura Gregory, noting that the current law does not cover town owned land, showed a photo of trees that had been cut on town land in the Mohegan neighborhood.
In opposition to the law, Richard Fon, chair of the Planning Board, read a memo that advised the Town Board that the current Tree Law was adequate but also included suggested changes to the proposed law, including one that would exempt properties one acre of less in size from the law. John Kincart, a member of the Planning Board but speaking as private citizen, said that the only change needed in the current law was to include town owned land and that the proposed law infringed on people’s property rights. Planning Director John Tegeder defended the work of the Planning Board, noting that the board has saved a large number of trees over the years. Joe Riina, a consulting engineer who represents many applicants before the Planning Board, read a multi-page letter critiquing the law and advised the board to trust the Planning Board as the current law was working and that no changes were needed.
Supervisor Gilbert indicated that he thought some parts of the existing law needed strengthening, Councilwoman Roker said the law was not taking away property rights and Councilman Lachterman said he was concerned about the property rights issue and wanted to make sure the law was not too onerous and was doable.
The board also opened separate hearings on the Stormwater and Erosion Control Law and the Freshwater Wetland Law which need to be amended to conform to the proposed Tree Law.
All three hearings were adjourned; the board will discuss the law at its July 23 work session.
Approximately 16 people spoke: 11 in opposition to certain provisions in the law, four in favor and one that was a general comment.
Patty Peckham, the owner of a horse farm, spoke in favor the law, both in general terms of the need for more solar in order to reduce our state’s reliance on fossil fuels but also as a property owner who wants to have a commercial solar farm on some cleared pasture land on part of her property. Bill Kellner, chair of the Tree Conservation Advisory Commission, supported the law despite the fact that it could result in the clear cutting of woodlands, stating that the Underhill Avenue woodland was already degraded. Joe Shanahan, vice president of the company that wants to build two solar farms in Yorktown, advised the board that if it eliminated residentially zoned property from the law, it could lead to larger commercial solar farms, possibly on the State Land property on Route 202. He also implied that if a company’s application was turned down, the town would be sued. Mr. Tegeder explained that a solar farm would have less impact on residentially zoned property than houses.
Most of the speakers opposed to the law supported more use of solar but opposed the provision that would allow commercial solar farms in residential neighborhoods and would require clear cutting woodlands. Linda Miller spoke about the need to balance the conflicting goals of preserving woodlands and encouraging solar installations. The speakers supported solar installations in commercial property as an accessory use, either on roofs or as canopies over parking lots. Although the law did not identify specific sites, Paul Moskowitz spoke against a proposed site on Underhill Avenue. Noting provisions in the solar laws of other northern Westchester towns, Elise Graham pointed out that Yorktown’s was much weaker e.g, it’s minimum lot size was 2 acres where two other towns had 10 acre minimums. Susan Siegel suggested that instead of an opened ended provision that said any residentially zoned property of a certain size, the town consider creating a new zone specifically for solar generation and rezone parcels on a case by case basis.
Supervisor Gilbert disputed comments that the solar energy company collaborated with the town on the drafting of the law.
The board adjourned the hearing and will discuss the law at a July 23 work session.
Note: the board did not open the hearing on the Solar Energy System PILOT law.