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Planning Board votes 3-2 against NextEra’s preliminary site plan

In a split vote Thursday, the Riverhead Planning Board voted 3-2 against NextEra’s preliminary site plan for a 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility on 199.66 acres off River Road and Edwards Avenue in Calverton.

But the proposal could be brought up again for a future vote on an amended version of the site plan, officials said.

The Planning Board vote is in contrast with the special permit approval granted by the Riverhead Town Board in December. 

Riverhead Town and NextEra, also known as LI Solar, had an agreement under  which NextEra would pay the town a $1.5 million in “community benefits.”

According to that agreement, “LI Solar shall make a payment of $750,000 within five business days of the issuance of the required final approvals of both special permit and final site plan.”

The second payment date states: “LI Solar shall make a payment of $50,000 to the town within five business days of issuance of temporary certificate of occupancy.”

The Planning Board vote last Thursday saw board members Stan Carey, Joe Baier and Richard O’Dea vote no, while board members Ed Densieski and George Nunnaro voted yes.

But Mr. Baier said that if the resolution was amended to require that a proposed substation and antenna be moved back 300 feet from the road, that would change his vote.

The board took a five-minute recess while Mr. Carey got a legal opinion from one of the town attorneys as to whether this could be done, since the board had already voted on the preliminary site plan resolution.  

Mr. Carey said he was told that “since we voted on the resolution and it has already been defeated and closed, we cannot amend it here today.”

However, he pointed out, “some board members raised some issues that may be acceptable, so we’re probably going to ask the planning staff to go back to the applicant and discuss those amendments and it could come back up for a vote at a future meeting.”

NextEra’s proposal was met with almost unanimous opposition at Planning Board hearings. 

Mr. Carey said that in addition to the nine people who spoke against the project at last Thursday’s public hearing, the board also received 15 letters from residents who were either opposed to or concerned about the proposal.

John Harrison of Riverhead said a petition he started in opposition to the plan on March 1 now has almost 700 signatures. 

Resident Kathy McGraw criticized the Town Board for sending a letter signed by Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and councilmen Frank Beyrodt and Ken Rothwell stating that they still support the special permit for NextEra despite new information about the height of a tower being 45 feet instead of 11. 

Ms. McGraw said Mr. Beyrodt had recused himself from a vote on a solar moratorium in September because his family has a sod farm that Solar 2 — another sod farm adjacent to NextEra — is part of. 

Ms. McGraw said he should have abstained from the NextEra vote as well. She also feels the Town Board should have voted by resolution at a public meeting, rather than send a letter signed by three members.

Mr. Beyrodt said the land in this case is owned by his wife’s father, her aunt and her cousin. He said he was advised by legal counsel that he does not have to recuse himself, since he doesn’t have any ownership interest in that property.

Steven Losquadro, the attorney for NextEra, said that in addition to the community benefit agreement, the deal with the town also includes a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement that will generate  $9 million over the course of 30 years  and a one-time? $450,000 payment for use of an easement over Edwards Avenue.  

Mr. Densieski said he supports solar energy because it provides clean, renewable energy that is not dependent on other countries and doesn’t put children in the school system.