The Niagara Falls Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing for July 27 to consider whether to recommend to the City Council changes to the Zoning Code that would apply new restrictions to and limit the locations of high-energy usage industries such as bitcoin mining operations and marijuana grow-ops.
The board unanimously found that the council had completed the necessary steps to propose the Zoning Code changes. The council, on a 4-0 vote, approved the amendments at a special meeting late Tuesday afternoon.
The city Planning Board will now consider comments made at the public hearing and send a recommendation for approval of the amendments or proposed changes back to the City Council. The zoning code amendments will have to go through the same process before the Niagara County Planning Board.
The county panel is scheduled to meet on July 18.
“The whole point of the public hearing is to get input to make a recommendation back to the City Council,” City Corporation Counsel Christopher Mazur advised the Planning Board members.
The board meeting was attended, both in-person and on ZOOM, by lobbyists and lawyers representing high-energy use industries, including former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello. He said he represented US Bitcoin.
The Planning Board met in a special session, as the City Council had on Tuesday because the council is looking to expedite the adoption of the new regulations. Council members have said they hope to have the zoning code changes fully approved before the expiration, in September, of a moratorium on the siting on new high-energy use facilities in the city.
Council members indicated they are hoping to have recommendations back from the planning boards in time for their regularly scheduled July meeting. The council is in recess during the month of August.
The first council adopted the six month moratorium on “the creation, establishment, development, construction, expansion, enlargement, and operation of commercial data centers’ in the city in December. It was later extended to Sept. 13.
Currently, high-energy use facilities, like data centers and bitcoin mining operations, are restricted to land in the city that is zoned as industrial. The proposed amendments would designate the cannabis cultivation industry as high-energy use as well.
The proposed amendments would act as a so-called “overlay” to the current industrial zoning requirements adding new restrictions for high energy use facilities. Those restrictions would apply to issues such as noise levels and the replacement of grid energy with renewable energy.
Cryptocurrency mining facilities would be required to develop or purchase “sufficient renewable energy to offset 100% of the electricity to be consumed by (its) operations.” High-energy use facilities would also be barred from creating electrical interference with nearby communications facilities.
The amendments also set strict noise level requirements, measured not from the facility boundaries but at the closet nearby residential property.