Despite court order, solar permit still in limbo

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A contentious March 11 Planning Board hearing on a proposal to install a solar array off Wilson Street ended with no agreement among the participants on what the law requires with regard to permitting solar facilities.

The hearing, which was continued to March 25, is being held to reconsider the previously denied application by TJA Clean Energy, as proscribed by an order of remand from the state Land Court Trial Court at the request of both the town and TJA.

On Oct. 18, after a four-month series of public hearings, the Planning Board voted to deny a Commercial Solar Photovoltaic Special Permit Application by TJA Clean Energy to build a facility on 34 acres off Wilson Street.

On Dec. 4, the applicant filed an appeal to that decision in state Land Court.

“This has been agreed upon — a ‘mulligan’ so-to-speak — in lieu of a costly court process. We hope it will produce a resolution quickly,” Selectmen chair Claire Wright said previously.

A major bone of contention at the recent hearing was about the 75-foot buffer zone that town bylaw requires in a residential zone.

The applicant is requesting a waiver from the Planning Board that would reduce the buffer in certain areas around the facility due to topography with respect to the residence at 15 Wilson St.

The idea of granting such a waiver received consistent pushback from two board members, David Paul and Gary Trendel, both of whom were among the five members who voted against approving the project last year.

The applicant’s attorney. Joseph Pacella, implied the board was not adhering to state law and the state attorney general’s rulings with regard to solar facilities.

“It is our position that under [state statute] 48, section 3, solar cannot be unreasonably restricted,” Pacella said. “And by requiring us to have something that cannot be financially done would unreasonably restrict solar.”

Furthermore, the permit previously had been denied despite advice the Planning Board received in advance from town counsel.

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