ZAC continues solar zoning discussion, narrows focus as time becomes factor

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The Zoning Advisory Committee continued its discussion of solar zoning at its meeting Monday night, working on language that could be added to the town’s bylaw to restrict commercial ground-mounted solar arrays.

While the committee made progress toward proposed changes/revisions, the discussion was continued to the next meeting on Jan. 11. With the 2021 Town Meeting warrant set to close Feb. 2, the committee is attempting to get something to the Planning Board in time for it to be considered and then placed on the warrant for residents to vote on at the May 3 Town Meeting.

Ria McNamara continued to press for a regulation limiting the size of an acceptable parcel. She suggested 3 acres, noting that the small size would discourage companies looking to make a bigger profit.

Concerns were raised about how it could be defended against a legal challenge, but McNamara implied it was worth the risk.

“To me, this is the easiest thing,” McNamara said. “Again, we’re here because there are residents out there screaming. I don’t have a fear about a solar developer filing a suit against us. I just don’t have that fear. I have a fear of residents filing a suit against us for being negligent. That’s what I have a fear of. Right now we have a bunch of residents who are really upset. That’s why we’re here.”

Currently the bylaw dictates a parcel must be a minimum of 3 acres.

Another proposal was to add language indicating a parcel must have been previously disturbed — meaning land altered for another reason — at least 10 years prior to the application being submitted. This was suggested in an attempt to discourage the clearing of forested land for solar. Some questions were raised regarding the best wording of the proposed bylaw to minimize the chances of someone finding a loophole, and it was to be taken up at the next meeting.

The board supported the idea of allowing solar in Industrial B zones — commercial/industrial areas that do not abut residences — while still requiring a special permit.

The fourth option being discussed was to beef up the screening regulations.

“I’m leaning toward a much simpler solution of … put an emphasis on screening as the way that gives the Planning Board a lot of latitude as what’s acceptable and what isn’t,” member Ron Foisy said. “If glare is a potential concern, the screening would take care of that, the visual aspects would be taken care of.”

Added Foisy: “If we limit the screening I think it’s much simpler to explain at Town Meeting, and it’s something that would help accomplish the goals that are established [for ZAC].”

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