The Virginia company proposing to build a 100 megawatt battery energy storage facility on Mill Road presented its proposal to the Riverhead Planning Board on Thursday – a presentation described by the city’s chief planner as merely intended to educate the council and the public on battery energy storage in general rather than a typical discussion of a site plan application before the board for consideration.
Battery energy storage is currently not a permitted use under the city’s zoning code. In fact, the company’s site plan application for the 3.6-acre residential site on Mill Road has already been denied by Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree for this reason.
However, the plaintiff, Riverhead Energy, a subsidiary of Hexagon Energy of Charlottesville, Virginia, also filed an application with the Riverhead Zoning Appeal Board seeking a special exception to permit the energy storage facility by battery on site. The special exception request asks the ZBA to substitute one non-conforming use with another non-conforming use, described as “less intense,” according to documents filed with the planning department last month.
On July 22, the day Murphree wrote the site plan application denial letter, planner Matt Charters wrote a notice of incomplete application letter to the applicant detailing the items they must submit to the planning department before its site plan application can be considered complete.
On Thursday, Hexagon’s senior director of development, Adam Stanek, told members of the Planning Board that battery energy storage facilities buy energy during off-peak hours to store it for later resale to the company. utilities at peak times at a higher price than they paid. . The systems enable a constant supply from renewable energy sources and overall lower costs for customers, reduce stress on the grid and reduce the need for large fossil fuel generators called “peaking power plants” which provide electricity during peak hours.
Stanek was joined in Thursday’s planning committee meeting with local Hexagon attorney Chris Kent of Farrell Fritz, as well as engineers and planning consultants from VHB Engineering. Farrell Fritz and VHB prepared Hexagon/Riverhead’s site plan application, complete environmental assessment form and technical site plan drawings, which were filed with the planning department on July 14, as well as a check for $5,000 for site plan application fees.
Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said she was ‘appalled’ that the application was presented to the planning board on Thursday, despite the use not being permitted by the town’s zoning code to be located anywhere in the town of Riverhead – and even if the city council is working to pass legislation to regulate the location and operation of battery energy storage facilities in the town. The city council held a public hearing on a first draft code on Tuesday evening.
An angry city supervisor said today that watching a video of Thursday’s planning board meeting ‘it became very clear what was being delivered to council and residents was a pre-planning request for the submission, with numerous documents, studies, certified documents” in the presence of the plaintiff’s lawyer, engineers and architect.
Aguiar called Thursday’s presentation a “serious distortion of public trust.”
Jamesport resident Barbara Blass, a former city council member, longtime member of the planning board and its former president, is often at odds with Aguiar when she takes to the podium at City Hall to comment on demands and pending actions. This is not the case on this question. Blass also expressed outrage at the process followed. His comments after Hexagon’s presentation at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting were in line with Aguiar’s assessment.
Noting that the applicant had had a pre-bid conference with planning department staff in October, Blass questioned why the education effort of the Planning Board and the public – which, according to the building administrator and planning, Jefferson Murphree, was the focus of Thursday’s presentation – has been postponed until mid-August.
“Why wait for this applicant to go through the still ongoing application process, but still provide site plan drawings fully designed by VHB engineering company, pay the application fee, complete the lengthy environmental assessment form and anything that goes with the app sitemap, including notarized signatures, and suggesting that it was on your agenda to educate the board and the public about the technology?” Blass asked.
“We saw a draft code proposed by staff in April, why not enlighten the council then?” she asked.
“And who would consider a public information forum at 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, when the public can’t even participate in the discussion?” Blas continued. “I’m sorry, but the word dishonest comes to mind.”
Rather than wait for the City Council’s code amendment to proceed to its conclusion and final adoption, Hexagon/Riverhead, with the apparent consent of the Building and Planning Administrator, is requesting a special exception to the Use of the Zoning Appeal Board. If the special exception use is granted by the ZBA, the applicant could obtain site plan approval and proceed with construction without the special permit from the city council required by the pending code amendment, even if the property is not located in one of the zoning districts where it would be permitted if the proposed code were adopted.
Under the draft code on which the city council held a first public hearing on Tuesday, installations of battery energy storage systems would be permitted by special permit from the city council only in Industrial A, Industrial C , planned industrial park, agricultural protection and zoning A-80 residence use neighborhoods.
But the proposed site on Mill Road is zoned Residence B-40, so the proposed BESS facility could not be located there if the code is passed in its current form.
“How and why would a candidate continue to invest in the development of a non-compliant application unless they were aware that at some point there was a light at the end of the tunnel for them? Blass asked during Thursday’s planning board meeting.
“Instead of solid planning principles at play here, we seem to have a well-orchestrated strategy that runs counter to responsible, trustworthy and professional behavior.”
New York State is promoting battery energy storage systems to meet renewable energy goals by improving the efficiency of commercial solar power generation facilities, which generate most of their power in the middle of the day, an off-peak hour for residential energy use, Hexagon representatives said. says the council.
The installation would help maximize the benefits of the solar farms located in Calverton, Stanek said. Although the proposed site is zoned residential, the proposed battery energy storage system “suits the local aesthetic, in that the land is currently used for industrial purposes”.
The Mill Road location is adjacent to the rail line to the south and a large self-storage facility to the north, and is near a LIPA substation located south of Main Street. Hexagon Energy’s Stanek said redevelopment of the site will result in additional tax revenue for the city.
The proposed location on Mill Road is also adjacent to Glenwood Village, a high density prefabricated housing community.
The property is currently being upgraded with warehouse-type buildings that would be demolished to make way for the energy facility, according to documents filed by the plaintiff.
The proposed facility would be the largest of its kind to date on Long Island. A small facility is located in the town of East Hampton and a large scale facility is proposed closer to New York City. Hexagon is not involved in any of these facilities, Stanek told the Planning Board.
Blass also challenged the notion that the battery energy storage facility is a “non-conforming use” that can be substituted for another non-conforming use by special exception from the ZBA.
The ZBA has the power to grant a special exception to replace one nonconforming use with another, Blass said, but “but the use has to be legally authorized somewhere in the city or it’s not a nonconforming use.” compliant, it’s non-existent use,” Blass said.
Murphree, the city’s chief planner and zoning officer, disagrees.
In response to questions from RiverheadLOCAL on Tuesday, Murphree said in an email that “any use not explicitly listed or construed as authorized by the city’s zoning official [Murphree] is considered a derogatory use. It does not have to be allowed “elsewhere” in the zoning code to be considered non-compliant. »
The applicant intends to apply for the special exception from the ZBA, Murphree wrote, and the planning department put the application on the agenda of the Planning Board on Thursday for discussion only to “inform the nature board [of the] the application in question and its proposed use, as well as [to] describe the process for reviewing the application in the future.
The application remains incomplete pending receipt of additional information outlined in Charters’ July 22 letter, Murphree wrote in the email.
Murphree continued, “Again, we’re just trying to be proactive and educate the Council and the public on a new use.”
Alek Lewis contributed reporting.
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