Proposed solar energy facility in Howell falls short of approval

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HOWELL – The members of the Howell Zoning Board of Adjustment have denied an application that proposed the construction of a solar energy project on Victory Road.

Victory Road runs between Maxim-Southard Road and Lakewood-Farmingdale Road.

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The applicant, IPP Solar, LLC, and the property owners, Stavola Realty Company and Stavola Construction Materials Inc., were seeking a conditional use variance, preliminary and final major subdivision approval, and preliminary and final major site plan approval to construct a 23-acre, 4.7-megawatt solar energy facility at the location.

The applicant proposed to connect the solar energy facility to the Jersey Central Power and Light electric grid network on Victory Road. Testimony indicated IPP Solar was under contract to purchase the property from the Stavola company.

The tract has frontage on Victory Road. Part of the property (20 acres) is in a Special Economic Development (SED) zone and part of the property (8 acres) is in an Agricultural Rural Estate (ARE) zone. The applicant proposed to remove 22 acres of trees and to construct solar arrays that would produce about 4.7-megawatts of electricity.

The end user of the power generated by the project would be New Jersey Natural Gas. To the southeast of the site there is a New Jersey Natural Gas facility that stores natural gas in a frozen state and releases it to the company’s grid on an as-needed basis.

The application concluded during the board’s Feb. 28 meeting. Attorney Salvatore Alfieri represented the applicant.

In comments to the board, Alfieri said the applicant would increase a proposed 150-foot-wide buffer on a portion of the site to 200 feet. Doing that would have reduced the amount of acreage to be cleared, he said.

The zoning board members discussed the application.

Vice Chairman Paul Sayah said in his opinion, “the energy for the utility is energy security.”

“That is big in this day and age, and where we are going as a country. Having the solar field is a low intensity (use) vs. what I would call a potential high intensity (use) and I think that is beneficial to the community,” Sayah said.

Sayah made a motion to grant the use variance and to approve the application. Board member Jose Orozco seconded the motion.

Board member Glenn Cantor said the application was a difficult one to consider.

“I feel that I am here to represent my neighbors in Howell and I feel they have selected me to represent their best interest. The piece of property in question is zoned as an ARE-6 zone. The neighbors have opposed this particular variance and who am I to oppose what my neighbors want? There is a reason why that is zoned ARE-6 so my vote will be ‘no’, ” Cantor said.

Board member Matthew Hughes said, “this (application) is definitely a tough one. I came in here with one thought and then after hearing the (applicant’s offer to) increase the buffer, now I am kind of rethinking.

“I don’t know, this is a tough one, this is a very tough one because I also think there is a possibility with what is left of the ARE (zoning) portion of this, I just can’t understand why we can’t get that on the other portions, so I am going to go ahead and say my vote will be ‘no’ as well,” Hughes said.

Board member Richard Mertens said he gave the application a lot of time and consideration.

“I can understand in the SED zone there are a lot of positives to this application, but in the last meeting we found out from the applicant that they are looking to get 4.5 kilowatts for this site. There is 4.2 (kilowatts) on the east side and if you add the west side it is 4.8 (kilowatts) total.

“Our planner even said this and I concurred with her, we have room on the east side of the tracks. This is why I do not understand why we are disrupting the west side when we can put everything in the SED zone and this is where this application belongs because the only ones benefiting from this application are the owner of the property, the applicant and New Jersey Natural Gas. My vote will be ‘no,’ ” Mertens said.

To be granted a use variance, the applicant needed to receive a minimum of five “yes” votes from the seven board members who were seated on Feb. 28.

On a roll call vote on the motion to grant the use variance and approve the application, zoning board Chairman Wendell Nanson and board members James Moretti, Sayah and Orozco voted “yes.”

Cantor, Hughes and Mertens voted “no” on the motion.

Because the application did not receive a minimum of five “yes” votes, the 4-3 vote resulted in a denial of the application.

A second solar energy application, NJ Solar 2000, LLC, was on the Feb. 28 agenda, but was not heard. The application was carried to the April 25 zoning board meeting.

According to the agenda, New Jersey American Water Company, as the applicant and owner, is seeking amended preliminary and final major site plan approval to construct a 9-acre solar photovoltaic farm consisting of one solar panel array, two concrete pads for equipment, a perimeter security fence and a 20-foot-wide gravel access drive at a property on Casino Drive.

The applicant is also proposing to construct two storm water infiltration basins with grassed swales, supplementing and widening the existing dirt/gravel access drive for access to the proposed solar energy facility from Casino Drive and additional electric utility improvements along the existing driveway to connect the proposed solar energy facility to the Jersey Central Power & Light electric grid network on Casino Drive.

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