The bylaw, which was last amended in 2015 as part of a Green Communities grant, does not pertain to residential solar structures or small-scale rooftop solar panels, Planning Board member Mary McClintock clarified. The goal of Thursday’s information session was to get input on concerns that have the potential to impact the community.
Chair Beth Girshman opened the meeting with a brief overview of the current bylaw, followed by a presentation of six proposed changes that came about based on Planning Board’s research.
“We have read a lot of bylaws,” she said.
Those changes include requiring a special permit process and site review for all new solar facilities over 5 acres; increasing setbacks; strengthening requirements for sound testing; requiring construction site monitoring — paid for by the applicant — for proposed projects over 5 acres; requiring line-of-sight visibility testing prior to permitting; and increasing screening or planting, and maintenance requirements.
Several of the residents who offered comments at the meeting said they are abutters to the project on Main Poland Road, where private land was leased to the solar energy company Nexamp.
Jeff Golay of Main Poland Road said he supports requiring a special permit.
“By the time we knew (the Nexamp project) was happening, it was designed and ready to go,” he said. “I am absolutely a supporter of requiring a special permit so the town and neighbors can have more input in the process.”
His neighbors echoed their support. Jack Farrell, also of Main Poland Road, asked if would be possible to hold a community meeting in advance of the permitting process — similar to the community outreach meetings required by the state for marijuana establishments.
“We could consider that,” McClintock said.
As for sound restrictions, residents expressed concerns over the construction phase of a project, as well as the sound of the solar panels themselves once construction is complete.
“If there’s a hum, or I’m living with some low-level frequency … it’s really going to bum me out,” commented Gerry LeBlanc, referencing the Nexamp project in his neighborhood.
Construction site monitoring was also favored, with residents noting that should also include managing trash, litter and rock dust, and providing an “accurate” timetable for when construction is expected to be complete.
After each of the six potential changes the Planning Board is considering were reviewed, residents were offered an opportunity to suggest anything else that hadn’t been part of the discussion.
Alice Vigliani, for example, asked that the board consider density limits — in other words, not permitting too many solar array projects in one neighborhood. Others expressed interest in the board looking into its ability to protect wetlands in the process.
Planning Board member Joe Strzegowski referenced a remote meeting he’d attended in Northfield regarding a proposed dual use solar panel project off of Pine Meadow Road, in which livestock would be raised under the solar farm.
“The state law says you cannot regulate farming, and it also says you cannot unfairly regulate solar,” he said. “I think if the town wrote a wetlands requirement that’s tighter than the state law, that would have to be for the whole town; I don’t think you could single out solar.”
He asked, instead, if the Planning Board would consider relaxing some of the proposed changes so farmers could put crops or animals underneath the panels.
“If we write a restrictive bylaw, we’d be preventing farmers,” he said.
Some agreed with the sentiment, but others felt that would “undo” the work put in during the meeting.
“I appreciate everybody who’s brought comments,” said McClintock, after roughly two hours of discussion. “This is exactly the kind of information we wanted to get in our information gathering in figuring out how to propose a revision to this bylaw.”
The board will continue to accept comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, ideally before its March 4 meeting, McClintock said.
“At the March 4 meeting, we will be digesting this information and turning it into zoning bylaw revision language,” she explained.
A public hearing on the bylaw will occur on March 24.
Mary Byrne can be reached at email@example.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne
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