By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency approved two major Essex County projects on Friday including a large-scale housing development and a 5-megawatt solar array. This is the second-ever solar installation the board has approved in the park, with APA staff alerting board members that more were to come.
Both projects had APA board members asking for more information from agency staff about the impacts these projects, and future ones like it, could have on the park and its people.
At the northern end of Lake George, Ticonderoga appears to be a burgeoning land of opportunity for solar arrays, though some board members and local government officials are concerned that farmland is disappearing because of it.
In the fall, the APA board approved a 5-megawatt solar installation on over 50 acres of farmland in the town, and the board unanimously approved another one on Friday. The latest 5-megawatt array is the project of Pivot Energy, and will also be located on about 50 acres of farmland.
Matthew Brown, an APA staff member, presented the project before the board during the first part of its meeting on Thursday. Overall, Brown said, the project met all the APA’s conclusions of law. The Town of Ticonderoga still has a public hearing on the project in May before it is officially approved.
APA staff told board members that there were a few other solar projects in the application pipeline for the Ticonderoga region.
Zoë Smith, an APA board member, said with the number of solar projects coming before the agency in that one town, she wondered about a larger picture of solar in the park. Andrea Hogan, another APA board member, asked if the APA could help towns with long-range planning for renewable energy projects. John Ernst, APA board member, wondered what the affect of approving one project at time would look like down the road.
“I don’t think it’s anything bad but I think we have to look at that before it gets much bigger,” Ernst said.
Following the unanimous vote for the project on Friday, board members and local government representatives provided input to APA staff, saying they’d like more information on when land was last used as farmland. Board members also suggested an interactive online map showing where solar arrays are going up in the park, similar to a map the APA currently has of cell towers in the park.
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The APA is also looking at how their approval of renewable energy projects coincides with new renewable citing laws and regulations from Albany through the Office of Renewable Energy Siting. That office focuses on larger-scale projects than what APA has approved thus far—energy projects producing 25 megawatts or larger. Projects that are 20 megawatts and above may also apply to “opt in” to the office’s new review process.
Jerry Delaney, executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board, said he looked forward to the day that cell towers could be approved as fast as solar arrays. Delaney said he understood the need for solar and the economic benefits for communities, and added that he is glad they are going up in the park.
“I do have concerns about unintended consequences in the future,” he said.
North Elba housing
With mixed feedback from board members, a 355-unit housing project involving the redevelopment of the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center, received the APA’s OK on Friday.
The majority of the apartments developers are building first are intended for athlete housing in 2023 during the World University Games. In addition to apartments and condos, the subdivision will include greenhouses, a pool, a new clubhouse, parking and maintenance facilities.
“After the games, the hope is this project will increase the available housing options in Lake Placid,” said Devan Korn, an APA staff member.
Though the board approved the project, some members were bothered that previous pitches suggesting the development would become affordable housing after the sporting event was over, had been scaled back. Board members were also concerned that plans between the developer and town had not been finalized to make upgrades to Barn Road, a town road that currently sees very little traffic.
Dan Wilt, chair of the APA’s regulatory programs committee, asked if there was anything in APA regulations that could address low-income housing. Korn said that kind of information is not factored into APA’s analysis.
Dan Kelleher, APA’s special assistant for economic affairs, said there was an addendum with the developer to restrict 37 of the rental units to people making 120% or less of the median income for the area. As for the condominiums, those will be sold at about $600,000 per unit.
After the board passed the project on Friday, APA board member Art Lussi said 37 units of affordable housing proposed for the project was not good enough.
“I don’t think it is right,” he added, pointing out that the developer negotiated with the Town of North Elba and the Village of Lake Placid on that outcome. “I think that we have proven that mixed use can be done. Maybe, again, the agency has to be the lead.”
Wilt said he was not sure how this would fit into APA’s review, but he also stressed the need for more affordable housing in the park.
“We have employees driving from Watertown and Tupper Lake working in the Lake Placid area, and it’s something that really need to be addressed, and maybe could be addressed on a project like this,” Wilt said.
Hogan, who is also the supervisor for the Town of Johnsburg, agreed that affordable housing is a big issue.
“I think it’s going to take every brain in the park working on it,” she said.