HOWELL – The vote on a proposed 23-acre solar farm on Victory Road proved to be a win for residents opposed to the project when it failed to get the required number of votes from the Zoning Board to approve the application.
In a close vote at their meeting on February 28, the Board voted four to three in favor of the application, one vote shy of the necessary five needed for “D” variances in the township. Had it passed, the project would have consisted of two solar panel arrays, a seven-foot-tall perimeter security fence, two concrete pads for equipment and two 26-foot-wide gravel access drives at the site.
One point of contention between the Board members was the fact that the proposed project would encompass Block 41, Lots 17, 27 and 28, which would cause it to be split over two sides of the railroad tracks that cross Victory Road. This fact proved to be a dividing point, as Board member Rich Mertens commented before casting the deciding third “no” vote.
“We have room on the east side of the tracks,” said Mertens. “This is why I do not understand why we are disrupting the west side, when we can put everything in one zone. My vote is no.”
Township residents had been very vocal about their opposition to the project at previous meetings. In an attempt to win the approval of the Board, the applicants had made several concessions to the plan, including increasing tree buffers on the site.
“My client has indicated that he is willing to increase that buffer to two hundred [feet] which would reduce the clearing [of trees] to three acres,” said Salvatore Alfieri, the attorney for the applicants IPP Solar, LLC, Stavola Realty Company and Stavola Construction Materials, Inc. Alfieri indicated that his client was willing to plant additional trees at the site should the Board require it for passage.
“The applicant has worked very hard with us over the course of the past three [to] four months,” said Township Planner Jennifer Beahm. “I think the project as presented to you now is far superior than it was when it started out.”
Prior to making the motion to vote on the proposal, Board Member Paul Sayeh referenced the need for New Jersey to look towards the future. “The energy for the utility is energy security,” offered Sayeh. “And that’s big in this day and age and where we’re going as a country.” His motion to approve the application was seconded by Jose Orozco, who also voted in favor of the proposal.
“I just want to be very clear that something is going to go on this property,” said Beahm ahead of the vote, “whether it’s solar or something else. So, the rationale behind [the] concerns is clearing of trees. The trees are not going to be there. They’re going to go, whether it’s for this, or some other project.”
But despite votes to approve the proposal from Board Member James Moretti and Chairman Wendell Nanson, Board Members Matt Hughes and Glenn Cantor joined Mertens in his opposition to the application.
“I feel that I’m here to represent my neighbors in Howell, New Jersey,” explained Cantor. “The neighbors have vociferously opposed this particular variance, and who am I to oppose what my neighbors want?”