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Planning Board discusses screening concerns with Wilson Street solar developer

by | Jun 7, 2022 | Business, News

At Monday’s Planning Board meeting, the developer of a solar array at 17 Wilson Street has been told to present an amended screening plan before the Planning Board decides whether to approve it.

The board previously expressed frustration with work by the developer, Grasshopper Solar, on the project. At recent site walk, the two sides discussed some of the issues board members would like to see addressed, and the developer on Monday night presented a revised plan. However, the board saw the changes as significant enough to warrant a more formal amendment to Grasshopper’s original plan.

“My recommendation here is that the applicant come back with an amendment to the plan,” Chair Gary Trendel said. “At the end of the day, you’re asking us to react to things that aren’t even presented on paper. There’s just not a way we can review and approve something that isn’t even represented in some capacity.”

The board did listen to a presentation by Ahmed Hafez, representing Grasshopper, that went over several points of concern. Among them was a plan to seed the area disturbed inside a 75-foot buffer with wildflower mix; seeding and stabilizing buried electrical lines and berm; seeding, stabilizing and cutting grass in the lawn reclamation area; adding 19 boxwood trees around the transformer area; adding five green giants to fill in holes and improve screening; and installing a decorative gate with a “barn-like look” near the entrance.

There was some concern expressed about burying the utility lines in a mound, with Principal Planner John Gelcich suggesting the need to hear an opinion from BETA, a consultant that provides planning, engineering and other services to the town.

“Usually, they are buried underground and not above ground with a mound,” Gelcich said. “We really need BETA to weigh in on that, and how they view the rest of the site … with stormwater management and that sort of stuff.”

That prompted Hafez to remark, “I think this would be according to the electrical code.”

“It very well might be,” Trendel said.

Hafez said Grasshopper would “do whatever we can to make sure the berm is not eroded by stormwater or rainwater.”

Regarding the lawn reclamation area, Trendel noted the original plan called for plantings.

“You’re proposing nothing be planted other than the lawn being seeded,” he said, with Hafez saying Grasshopper could plant other trees.

The boxwood trees added around the transformer, which would reduce the width of the entrance drive, was another issue of discussion, with Vice Chair Mary Larson-Marlowe and others questioning whether they would provide full screening from the road.

“I think the boxwoods, in my opinion, would not be sufficient screening for the equipment,” Member Elyse Barrett Mihajloski said. “I would like to see maybe some taller trees or bushes thrown in there with them. It’s pretty close to the road and you can see it when you drive by.”

The board and developer also discussed the placing of additional green giants. A representative for the general contractor on the project said those plantings would intertwine and grow in a hedge formation, which he said would accomplish what the initial screening plan called for.

There also was a discussion on whether to move the proposed decorative gate to the front of the road, although it was noted that underground conduits at that location could be an issue.

“There are some pretty substantial changes with the width of the road, stormwater maintenance, a lot of details that aren’t addressed here,” Trendel said of the presentation Monday night.

Added Larson-Marlowe: “I agree with [Trendel]. The details need to be clearly laid out in the plan and in an appropriate way for us to be able to vote on it.”

Board Member Ron Priefer said what the developer proposed represented “significant improvement.”

“There is real thought on how to shield abutters from the view,” he said. “I would be in favor of voting for it if it had been a little more finalized.”

Board Member Fran DeYoung, echoing Trendel’s reference to the plan as being significantly changed from the original proposal, said it should be brought back in front of the board as an amendment, with fellow member Jane Moran agreeing.

“This is just part of the process and it’s just what happens,” Moran said. “You have to go through it.”

“I know this is stretching out longer than you hoped,” Trendel told the developer. “We have a process we need to follow.”

Hearing opened on Lykan’s new building

The Planning Board also opened a public hearing on a proposed bioscience building at 103-109 South Street, scheduling a site walk for Saturday, June 18, at 10 a.m.

The project, by Lykan Bioscience, includes the demolition of two existing, single-story buildings at the site and the construction of a new, 112,000-square-foot, two-level building. The first level, according to David LaPointe, speaking on behalf of the project, would consist of administrative and executive offices and conference rooms. The remaining portion would consist of parking underneath the building. The second level, he said, is where the majority of research and lab facilities would be located.

LaPointe noted the project has been awarded two variances by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The project also calls for 229 total parking spaces, which LaPointe acknowledged is less than what would be required under the zoning bylaw that was in effect when the project was first submitted. However, he noted a zoning amendment was approved at last month’s Town Meeting, which would require just 131 parking spaces for a building the size of which is being proposed by Lykan.

Speaking to the parking plan, Gelcich called it a “little bit of discussion issue,” saying the building was listed as a commercial and office building in the BETA review and in the initial application. Depending on the use, he said, the calculation for parking would change.

“I think [it would help] to have some clarification, maybe a letter written fully explaining what the parking situation is going to be,” Gelcich said.

The hearing was continued until the board’s next meeting on June 21.

Misc.: Traffic calming discussed

The board had a discussion about traffic calming measures on Chamberlain Street and Whalen Road due to the new homes being constructed at the end of both roads. Members agreed that it would make sense to first schedule a meeting with a representative from the Department of Public Works before offering a recommendation. …

As part of its annual reorganization, the board voted unanimously, with one member absent, to keep Trendel as chair and Larson-Marlowe as vice chair.

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