MOREAU — A unique farm has been proposed that would rely on a bar, performance venue and a solar array to make ends meet.
Rachel McDermott, whose family owns Westwind Ag in Schaghticoke, is asking the Town Board to approve the project as a planned unit development. The PUD is the only way for such an unusual farm to be approved in the town’s agricultural zone, Zoning Administrator Jim Martin said.
McDermott on Tuesday asked the board to be open to approving a non-traditional farm.
“I appreciate open minds,” she said.
She had initially planned to have a grain hub as well as a brewery and distillery. However, that portion of the project has been “pushed off a bit,” she said. The grain hub concept would involve building a series of silos in which different grains would be cleaned and separated by grade, type and variety, then sold as custom orders to breweries and distilleries, as well as to other farmers for their own growing.
Her current plan is to produce brews and liquors made only from what she grows.
“Grown, manufactured and sold on site,” she said. “My small brewery’s going to keep this small farm in action.”
She would also run a taproom to sell the drinks. At first, it would have small live music performances. But she hopes to grow into holding three-day music festivals.
“Ag and Market Law allows us to have festivals if the sole purpose is to sell our beer,” she said.
She also wants to build “tiny houses” for people to stay for a weekend, tour the farm and go to taproom events.
She wants to place all of the brewing-related activities on the portion of her land that is zoned M2 for light industrial manufacturing. That is about 48 acres of her 308-acre lot.
The only problem is power. National Grid hasn’t run three-phase power to her location.
“We do not have sufficient power on site,” she said.
It would cost $300,000 to $400,000 to run wire to her farm. To pay for that, she wants to erect a 24-acre solar array.
“The solar farm could pay for three-phase,” she said.
That’s where the project hits major hurdles. The Town Board has a moratorium on ground-mounted solar arrays and is deciding whether they should be allowed in the agricultural zone.
“The solar complicates” the project, Supervisor Todd Kusnierz said. “You’re asking the board for an unofficial approval when we don’t know what we’re going to do about other parts of town for solar arrays.”
But McDermott made it clear the project can’t go forward without the solar array.
“It’s very important. I’m already working with no sewer and no water,” she said. “Short of someone gifting me with three-phase power, we have to find a way to get the solar field done.”
The proposed concerts in the future are also difficult under the town code. Performances “stretch” the definition of agricultural uses, Martin said.
“I think there are uses in here that are mixed in nature that support a core use. That’s the definition of a PUD,” he said, urging the board to begin that process.
The board would first ask the town Planning Board for a recommendation. Then the Town Board would do the environmental review, hold a public hearing and vote.
Board members said they were uncomfortable with the solar arrays but liked the other ideas.
“The brewery and entertainment, I’m almost excited about it,” said board member John Hogan. “Overall, I’m not concerned with this project. I’m concerned with the solar and the size of it.”
Kusnierz, who is also a farmer, said the board doesn’t want to stand in the way of farming.
“We want to do things that keep that part of our town viable,” he said.
But he noted that board member Gina LeClair, who was absent, had asked him to make clear that she was opposed to the solar array proposal.
Board member Kyle Noonan verified that a bank bond covering the cost of removing the solar array would be held for the life of the array. Then he said the decision should be up to the farmer.
“I trust all the farmers that are stewards of the land,” he said. “I think it’s an interesting project.”
Board member Alan Van Tassel said he wanted to find a solution.
“I’d love to see us figure out how to get this done,” he said.
But it may have to wait until the board finishes its new regulations for solar arrays, including its decision on where to allow them.
McDermott said she is eager to get started.
If the solar array is approved this fall, she said, it could be operational within a year. She hopes to have the brewery running next summer.
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