Battery energy storage systems (BESS) were a hot topic at a recent Community Board 1 meeting on Staten Island.
Jessica Jones-Gorman
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
Sep. 17—STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Battery energy storage systems (BESS) were a hot topic at a recent Community Board 1 meeting, where North Shore residents raised plenty of questions about Mayor Eric Adams’ “City of Yes” zoning proposals — the first of which was approved by the City Planning Commission (CPC) this past week.
“The proposal is confusing, and it was shoved down our throats,” said CB1 member Peter Lisi, who made a motion for the board to officially vote on City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality, a proposal that was introduced earlier this year with a goal of modernizing NYC’s zoning regulations to support the state’s climate goals.
“They gave us 87 pages of complex language to review — an elaborate, obtuse document — and it seems like it already went through before we were given the chance to vote,” Nicholas Siclari, CB1 chair, added at the meeting, referencing the CPC’s approval of the initiative, which occurred a day before the scheduled CB1 vote. “The consensus was originally to waive our right to review, but if the board wants to vote, we can do so now.”
The Community Board did vote the proposal down — with 24 members voting no, two yes and five abstaining — but the overall sentiment in Salem Church in West Brighton that evening was that the community’s voice would never be heard.
“They’re putting these battery sites anywhere and everywhere ‘as of right,’” said John Guzzo, who represents the neighborhoods of Rosebank and Fort Wadsworth for CB1. “This is not a good thing for this community or for any community here on Staten Island.”
The proposal calls for environmentally friendly retrofits for over 50,000 buildings and 1 million homes, the allocation of over 400 million square feet for electric vehicle charging, and the modernization of the city’s water, compost and recycling regulations — all measures that CPC officials say are critical steps for New York City to reach its ambitious environmental goals.
But the proposal’s push to remove zoning obstacles to facilitate a renewable energy grid, enabling developers to build battery energy storage infrastructure in residential areas without dispute, is what is provoking a negative Staten Island response.
“It seems the only thing the city is not saying yes to is respecting the valid concerns of Staten Island residents and elected officials,” said Assemblyman Sam Pirozzolo, (R-Mid-Island/North Shore), who attended the CB1 meeting. “BESS sites pose a severe risk of inextinguishable fires, coupled with toxic smoke that has the potential to harm the immediate and surrounding communities. They have no place in residential neighborhoods under any circumstances.”
According to the City of Yes project description, zoning currently considers BESS “electrical utility substations,” allowing for a maximum size of 10,000 square feet in residential districts through one special permit. The proposal would change that, allowing BESS to be installed in a wider range of zoning districts, with only larger facilities (bigger than the 10,000 square feet) requiring a special permit. BESS would also be without size limits in areas that are considered commercial and manufacturing districts, which sometimes directly border neighborhoods with schools and homes. The Department of City Planning’s website also notes that City of Yes Carbon Neutrality seeks to allow battery storage “in” or “on” residential buildings, pending FDNY and city Building Department approval.
Many in attendance at the CB1 meeting expressed concerns about those new zoning laws and were dismayed that their worries are being overlooked.
“They jumped ahead of us and approved it,” one member said. “Why did they even ask for our input if they were going to do what they wanted anyway?”
City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality began a formal 90-day public review on April 24, 2023. According to the city’s website, the proposal was then kicked to the local Community Boards and borough presidents for a vote, which should have occurred in July or August — a summer respite when monthly Community Board meetings are not required by the city.
Still, the CPC said the initiative received positive recommendations from 25 of the city’s 59 Community Boards, as well as endorsements from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens borough presidents.
And while the proposal was already greenlighted by CPC when CB1 issued its negative vote on Tuesday, a representative from Community Board 3 noted that they voted against Carbon Neutrality in June, offering City Planning a five-page recommendation detailing the community’s comments and concerns.
“CB3 recognizes the value and objectives of the City of Yes for decarbonization in energy, buildings, transportation and wastewater. However, the text amendments, as currently drafted, will be devastating to Staten Island communities,” the organization wrote. “The proposed text amendment focuses mainly on residential changes. It is an outrage and indicates the city’s contempt for residential communities and the people who choose this way of living.”
CB3 listed more than a dozen grievances with the proposal and suggested it be withdrawn entirely.
“It is complex and deserves full evaluations from the communities it affects, not just general public outreach,” the group said.
Community Board 2, which represents the areas of Arrochar, Bloomfield, Bulls Heads, Chelsea, Dongan Hills, Egbertville, Emerson Hill, Grant City, Grasmere, High Rock, Lighthouse Hill, Midland Beach, New Dorp, New Springville, Oakwood, Ocean Breeze, Old Town, Richmondtown, South Beach, Todt Hill and Travis, did not respond to a request for comment about its vote on the issue. But according to the public agenda, the group last met in May and City of Yes was addressed, but not voted upon.
Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella said he supports the city’s environmental goals, but could not back this particular proposal, due to Staten Island’s “unique set of challenges.”
“We are very supportive of the goals set forth in the ‘City of Yes,’ but there are aspects of it that just do not make sense for the people of Staten Island,” Fossella said. “One aspect is the current struggle to keep BESS out of residential neighborhoods and far enough away from homeowners’ backyards.”
The borough president noted that Staten Island elected officials have stated publicly that the current approach will decrease the quality of life for many families, potentially increase safety issues for both residents and firefighters, and diminish property values.
“Unfortunately, our concerns have not been addressed. As a result, we cannot, in good conscience, intentionally harm the people of Staten Island,” he continued. “We stand ready to work with anybody who wants to improve our environment, help to improve our air quality … and get Staten Island on a sound footing for any and all climate change issues.”
The City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality proposal will now move on to the next step of the approval process, which is a presentation to the New York City Council for a public hearing and a final vote this fall. A particular date has yet to be named.
Two other City of Yes initiatives — City of Yes for Economic Opportunity, which would support New York’s economic recovery, and City of Yes for Housing Opportunity, which would expand and diversify the city’ housing supply — are scheduled to enter into public review soon.
(c)2023 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
Visit Staten Island Advance, N.Y. at
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
In communities often challenged by flooding and hurricanes this time of year, crews instead are fending off 300-foot-tall fires du…
Locals wonder if these low-frequency, high-risk events will increase as more grain farmers install bins that can hold up to 50,000…
A World War I-era plane crashed and flipped over onto its roof as the pilot tried to land outside of a military history museum.
A helicopter crashed in a lake over the weekend, killing three crew members, while fighting a forest fire in western Turkey.
Stay in the know with the latest content, features, and training from the largest online firefighting community.
Please check your spam folder and any email filters, in the event that the email gets blocked.
Stay informed about daily FireEngineering news, podcasts, training videos, webcasts, commentary, and exclusive articles about FireEngineering by signing up.