The Cortlandville Planning Board voted Tuesday that construction of two side-by-side solar projects proposed off Bell Crest Drive near St. Mary’s Cemetery would cause significant environmental damage.
The board voted, 4-0, as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act and following a public hearing where residents raised their concerns.
The side-by-side 5 megawatt, 75acre solar projects need the review before construction, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Town Attorney John DelVecchio said following the determination that it was up to developer Summit Solar Capital whether to proceed.
At the start of the public hearing, David Spotts, a manager with Summit Solar Capital, said he would seek to continue with the project, regardless of the outcome of the SEQR findings, but did not explain how he would.
Spotts, the first speaker, gave a presentation on the project, noting the benefits it would bring, including creating between 80 and 100 construction jobs and generating about $2 million in tax revenue over the lifetime of the project.
Additionally, he noted that changes to the plan have been made to reduce visibility to residents off Bell Crest Drive and Ridgeview Avenue with a 15-foot tall visual buffer, potentially created from trees.
Spotts asked town board members to base their decisions “on facts, not on opinions,” and said the project would not be a risk for erosion control and stormwater control issues, which residents have questioned.
The project was met with heavy opposition from nine Cortlandville and Cortland residents as the project is near the border of the town and city.
“We completely object to this moving forward in any capacity,” said resident Brittany Van Loon, whose family lives on Rosewood Avenue.
She said the projects would “not improve the quality of life” and would hurt property values.
Patrick Perfetti, who lives on Ridgeview Avenue, said Spotts’ claim the panels wouldn’t be visible because of a buffer are “absurd.” Pictures taken of the site were taken at ground level, whereas the streets, including Ridgewood, Rosewood and Bellevue avenues, are above it.
“This site is not flat,” said Perfetti, who is also the Cortland County district attorney. “It’s at an elevation.”
Resident Jim Nichols said the issue of flooding at St. Mary’s Cemetery still has not been resolved after changes to the property by then-owner James Stevens III caused flooding more than five years ago. Construction of the solar projects could worsen the flooding, he said.
Curtis Nichols of Delta Engineers, which is working with Summit Solar Capital on the project, said the projects required very detailed plans regarding state environmental requirements and solar site development guidelines, which he said the projects meet.
A petition created last week on Change.org asks the town to stop any solar projects in residential areas, although the Bell Crest project lies in an agriculture district, albeit near a residential neighborhood. It had more than 250 signatures Tuesday night.
Editor’s note: This story has been amended to reflect that Patrick Perfetti was speaking in a private capacity.