Solar farm off Wilson Street approved

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The Planning Board voted to approve the installation of a solar array on 34 acres of land off Wilson Street, thereby preventing what could have been a costly lawsuit for the town.

The 7-1 vote on March 25 reversed the Planning Board’s previous decision, on Oct. 1, 2018, to deny a commercial solar photovoltaic special permit application by TJA Clean Energy to build the facility.

Following TJA Clean Energy’s appeal to that decision in state Land Court on Dec. 4, new hearings were proscribed by an order of remand from the state court at the request of both the town and TJA.

If successful, the appellant’s appeal could have cost the town money.

In a recent interview with the Independent, TJA Clean Energy attorney Joseph M. Pacella said that the delay in beginning construction had been costly for TJA.

However, Pacella said, if the order of remand resulted in an approval by the Planning Board, no financial damages would be sought.

The board’s approval, though, did not come without some reluctance, as expressed by Planning Board Chair Muriel Kramer.

“For me, if I was able to vote what I wanted to see, it’s entirely different than what I understand I have to consider,” she said. “I’m a big fan of solar, too, but I find clear-cutting trees to put in solar troubling at best.”

For the final vote, board members Amy Ritterbusch, Fran DeYoung, Deborah Fein-Brug, Mary Larson-Marlowe, Gary Trendel and Kramer voted to approve.

Board member David Paul voted to deny.

Board members Francis D’Urso and Carol DeVeuve were not eligible to vote, having not attended enough of the original hearings.

Immediately after the vote, the following conversation occurred between Kramer and Paul.

Kramer: “When I die, I want to come back as David Paul.”

Paul: “Why is that?”

Kramer: “Because you get to vote no.”

The approved plan also included some last-minute concessions by the applicant.

A letter to the Planning Board from Atlantic Design Engineers, Inc., dated March 21, detailed proposed revisions, including:

“The Site Plans have been revised to provide a 75 foot buffer adjacent to 15 Wilson Street. In order to avoid disturbing the existing stone wall and major vegetation within the right of way, the primary access remains at the existing break in the stone wall. …”

“In addition, the applicant proposes to provide an area of lawn reclamation that was previously proposed to help enhance the existing buffer in areas where previous clearing/lawn establishment has occurred. This area has increased in size from approximately 6,000 SF to 11,000 SF. …”

“The applicant has also removed the portion of the array located closest to Wilson Street. This increases the existing buffer to remain along Wilson Street to approximately 240 feet. In addition to the reduction in size of the array in this area, the Applicant still proposes to provide screening along the northern edge and the portion that faces Wilson Street.”

A number of Planning Board members and some abutters expressed their appreciation for these revisions.

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