ITHACA, N.Y.—A large, undeveloped West Hill property that was once sought for hundreds of homes is now being pursued for another use—a solar array.
The 91-acre Carrowmoor property on the 1300 Block of Mecklenburg Road may ring a few bells for long-time local residents. Back in 2009, the property was put forth for the Carrowmoor mixed-use project, which called for 400 condominium units, a 32-unit senior housing complex, 36,000 square feet of commercial space, a child care center, community center, and other complementary uses.
However, after the project received a positive declaration of environmental significance, meaning a lengthy and expensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was required, the project never continued forward. While the daunting task of an EIS might have been a part of it, the primary contributor was likely the housing crisis of the late 2000s, and the subsequent Great Recession, which mothballed Carrowmoor and many developments like it across the country. There was no appetite for risk, and hardly any bank lending to support development anyway.
Fast forward almost 15 years, and the property has largely lay dormant, until this month. Plans submitted by Nexamp Solar of Boston seek to build a 5-megawatt (MW) solar array on a 30-acre portion of the property. The property is still owned by the Rancich Family, and although it’s not stated, it’s likely Nexamp is proposing a long-term lease of the land in order to facilitate construction of the solar array. Nexamp already operates solar farms in Tompkins County, located in Newfield and Lansing.
According to filings with the Town of Ithaca Planning Department, the panels would be a single-axis sun-tracking solar array system, with a pair of transformer equipment pads, solar energy battery storage units, new power line connections, eight-foot tall perimeter fence, access road and stormwater management facilities. According to the latest solar energy efficiency and home-electricity use for New York state, that 5 MW should be enough to power about 850 homes.
The proposed solar array would supersede a sizable portion of the Carrowmoor plan. While its theoretically possible that housing could be built on other portions of the property, the use of 30 acres to house the solar array would substantially reduce the amount of available land for at least the next couple of decades. Were it to ever be revived in the relatively near future, Carrowmoor would have to be a smaller proposal.
The town recently instituted more restrictive solar array guidelines, which the project intends to comply with. Being prime farmland per town analysis, a native vegetation plan for pollinators will need to be submitted and reviewed, as well as a farmland protection plan for the soil beneath the array.
The project is set to undergo sketch plan (concept plan) review at the Town of Ithaca Planning Board meeting next week, and should it move forward, it will have to go through the standard retinue of State Environmental Quality Review and votes by the Planning Board before any shovels hit the dirt.
Generally though, the process isn’t as onerous as it is with many other building projects; while there has been greater community pushback against solar arrays in the past couple of years (and the Rancich family is all-too-aware of how community pushback can derail renewable energy projects like the Black Oak Wind Farm in Enfield, which they conceived), solar is generally considered a lower-intensity use of land, which tends to make overall review less burdensome. The goal is to have the array and battery storage units fully operation by Summer 2025.