Middleburgh moves toward home rule


By Patsy Nicosia

It wasn’t the meeting anyone wanted, but Middleburgh Supervisor Wes Laraway said afterwards, he’s pleased with what they got done.
Because of escalating COVID numbers at Middleburgh Central School and in the community, Thursday’s meeting was part-virtual, part-Zoom, part-call-in—literally a three-ring circus, Mr. Laraway joked before things got going.
“We’ve never done it like this before,” he said.
The combination and masks made hearing difficult at times, but two and a half hours later, Mr. Laraway said, they’d made history: approving updated zoning laws and passing three resolutions intended to give the town a voice in solar.
“We moved Middleburgh forward,” he said.
The zoning law updates guidelines and requirements for the Planning Board’s goals of preserving the town’s scenic beauty and rural character while preserving open space and farmland and encouraging appropriate growth and development, especially in the Route 30 and 145 corridors.
More significant were the solar resolutions and law, Mr. Laraway said—though it’s less about solar than it is home rule.
“We play by the rules and the state and solar companies need to do so as well,” he said.
“[It’s about] abiding by the rules our community and local zoning allows and prohibits for the benefit of all. What is the point in having rules if we don’t follow them? It’s about long-term vision, protecting our assets and interests…We all love the Schoharie Valley.”
Middleburgh’s efforts to draft a local law addressing large-scale solar were sidetracked because of COVID.
Now, East Light Partners, a Massachusetts-based solar company, is exploring putting a 20-megawatt project on 130 acres near the Middleburgh Rod & Gun Club that because of its size and state regulations, would be exempt from local review.
The land is owned by nearby dairy farmers Denise and David Lloyd and Scott VanKuren.
David and Becky Shaul are not involved in the project as reported.
Ms. Shaul said they had been approached about the possible purchase of “agricultural land that was not relevant to the project…but at no time was there any discussion about solar being built” on their land.
Middleburgh Zoning Board of Appeals chairman Steve Wingfield, who sat in on talks with EPL as a member of the Rod & Gun Club, said Thursday the company needs to “get the green light” from National Grid before it can move ahead.
“It doesn’t make it any prettier,” he said, but the only local benefit would be in taxes or a PILOT. “If the town’s going to have to look at it, you should get as much money out of it as possible.”
The county resolutions--51, 79, 80, and 103--adopted Thursday support full taxation, not PILOTs, for large solar projects; stressed the importance of agriculture and tourism to the local economy, and establishes an application fee for projects--$10,000 per megawatt with a minimum of $25,000 for smaller projects—to compensate municipalities for their time.
The local law adopted allows the town to opt out of Real Property Tax Law section 487 and so tax solar projects.
Without that opt-out, the projects are tax- and PILOT-free.
Mr. Wingfield has also advised the Village of Middleburgh and MCS to pass local laws opting out of it.
“I think what sold me on this, is it gives us time to negotiate a better deal” if the project becomes inevitable, Mr. Laraway said.
Without it, “If I get served papers tomorrow on a solar project, that ship has sailed.”