Frank Peller couldn’t understand what was happening outside his home.
“I thought it was a 747 revving up on Buffalo Avenue,” Peller told members of the Niagara Falls Planning Board on Wednesday night.
But after stepping outside, he said he quickly realized that the sound was coming from a nearby bitcoin mining operation on Buffalo Avenue.
Peller’s neighbor, Bryan Maacks, told the planning board, “At the beginning of the year my home was invaded, by noise. It has changed my life. It is constant, 24 hours a day.”
Maacks said the noise was coming from a US Bitcoin facility inside what had been an abandoned industrial plant on Buffalo Avenue. He told the board 49 other neighbors were joining him in complaining about the plant’s impact on the quality of life in their neighborhood.
“I’m here for myself and my mental health,” Maacks concluded.
Peller also posed a question to the board.
“When I built my garage, I needed a permit,” he said. “How did this (bitcoin facility) get built? Who approved this?”
“Nothing was ever approved,” Mayor Robert Restino told Peller.
And the mayor said that was why the planning board was holding a hearing to receive public comments on proposed changes to the city’s zoning code that would apply new restrictions to and limit the locations of high-energy use industries such as bitcoin mining operations, marijuana grow -ops and data centers.
“This is specially designed to address high energy use industries,” Restino said of the proposed zoning code changes. “While the city of Niagara Falls appreciates the interest by these operators (in locating here), we are sensitive to the residents’ concerns.”
The hearing was part of a frantic rush by the city council to adopt the zoning code amendments before the expiration, in September, of a moratorium on the siting on new high-energy use facilities in the city.
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. The moratorium, which also includes bitcoin mining operations and cannabis cultivation, was later extended to Sept. 13.
About half a dozen city residents vented to the planning board members, primarily about the noise, coming from the bitcoin mine on Buffalo Avenue and a second mine on Frontier Avenue. Patricia Frederick said the bitcoin facility near her home has “reduced the level of comfort and peace outside my home.”
“There is no peace,” Frederick said.
Susan Delong told the board members they needed to recommend the zoning code changes to preserve the quality of life in her neighborhood.
“I used to hear the sound of the Falls at my house,” Delong said. “Now, I hear bitcoin.”
The planning board will consider the comments made at the public hearing and send a recommendation for approval of the amendments or proposed changes back to the city council after a special board meeting on Aug. 10.
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 also act as a so-called “overlay” to the current industrial zoning requirements, adding new restrictions for the high-energy use facilities. Those restrictions would place limits on noise levels and require the replacement of electrical 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 noise level requirements would be measured not from the facility boundaries but at the closest nearby residential property.
The zoning code amendments have already been approved and recommended by the Niagara County Planning Board. The county board voted unanimously, on July 18, to recommend the changes, but suggested that the council further clarifying its definition of a “high-energy use” industry and further define the noise level regulations.
Representatives of US Bitcoin attended the hearing, but told the Gazette they chose not to speak and would convey their thoughts on the zoning code amendments directly to the Planning Board. Morgan Dae, the operations director of Block Fusion, the operator of the Frontier Avenue bitcoin facility, said his company was willing to work with the city on setting up new regulations for the industry.
“We’re trying to get this right,” Dae said. “I do apologize. It is noisy. Hopefully, we’ll get that fixed.”