The Niagara Falls Planning Board, meeting in special session Wednesday night, made a nearly unanimous recommendation on proposed changes to the city’s zoning code that would enforce new restrictions and limit the locations of energy-intensive industries. .
The zoning code changes would apply to mining operations and Bitcoin data centers. The council, at the request of Falls Mayor Robert Restaino, removed provisions targeting cannabis grow operations.
Restaino said the city’s proposed pot plans may not comply with regulations being developed by the New York State Office of Cannabis Management. The mayor said that once state regulations are in place, the city will seek to further amend the zoning code to govern where potential weed farms are located and how they can be operated.
“I am pleased that the Planning Board will recommend this ordinance to city council,” Restaino said. “And I believe the council has also heard from the community and will act quickly.”
Council has scheduled a public hearing on the zoning code changes for Aug. 17. It’s part of a frantic rush by council members to pass zoning code changes before a moratorium on the siting of new high-energy use city facilities expires in September.
The council first passed the six-month moratorium on “the establishment, establishment, development, construction, expansion, enlargement and operation of commercial data centers” in the city in December. The moratorium, which also includes bitcoin mining operations and cannabis cultivation, was later extended until September 13.
The zoning code changes have already been approved and recommended by the Niagara County Planning Board. The county council voted unanimously on July 18 to recommend the changes, but suggested that the council consider further clarifying its definition of an “energy-intensive” industry and more precisely defining the noise level regulations.
Restaino told Planning Board members that city officials worked with Falls Special Counsel Dan Spitzer to incorporate suggestions made by residents during a public council hearing on zoning changes on July 27. the Office of Cannabis Management.
But Spitzer also told Planning Board members, unequivocally, that the city’s position was that “bitcoin mining (along with data centers and weed cultivation) is not legal in the city of Niagara Falls”.
“Crypto mining is not beneficial. It’s detrimental,” Spitzer told the board. “We believe that the standards currently in place need to be updated. If you plan to build in our city, you must do so legally.
There are currently two bitcoin mining facilities in Falls, and two or three more are looking to establish operations. There are no data centers, but Niagara Falls Redevelopment (NFR) has offered to build one on land the city is seeking to acquire for its Centennial Park project.
Spitzer admitted that the US Bitcoin mine on Buffalo Avenue in the former DuPont chemical plant would be forced to comply with new zoning regulations or close. The facility would not currently meet the requirements for high energy neighborhoods.
“Keep in mind that (US Bitcoin) is illegal use right now,” Spitzer said. “We’re not asking the (Planning Board) to grandfather anyone. We’re not rewarding those people.”
A lobbyist for US Bitcoin, former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello, observed the board meeting over a Zoom connection. Spitzer said US Bitcoin representatives have requested that their operation be “grandfathered” and not subject to the proposed zoning code changes.
Restaino said the city believes the crypto mine has been in operation since 2018, but only came to notice when its operations grew to its current size. The mayor said the city had tried to “engage” with energy-intensive industries, but had little success.
“The industry sees regulations as costing them money,” Restaino said. “The industry has made no effort to discuss mitigation (of noise, electrical interference and power consumption issues).”
Spitzer said that when industry representatives objected to the new proposed regulations, “we objected to people putting things in buildings that are not permitted.”
Currently, energy-intensive facilities, such as data centers and bitcoin mining operations, are limited to city lands that are zoned as industrial. The proposed changes would also act as a so-called “overlay” on current industrial zoning requirements, adding new restrictions that would limit noise levels and require the replacement of power from the electric grid 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 installations would also be prohibited from creating electrical interference with nearby communication installations.
Noise level requirements would be measured not from the boundaries of the facility, but at the level of the nearest residential property.