ZAC finalizes proposed commercial solar bylaw, votes to send it to Planning Board

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The Zoning Advisory Committee put the final touches on its proposed commercial ground-mounted solar bylaw at its meeting Tuesday night, working with town counsel to tweak the wording before unanimously voting to send it to the Planning Board for eventual submission to Town Meeting.

“I can’t believe we’ve finished,” ZAC chair Mary Larson-Marlowe said with a laugh after the motion passed. “I thought solar would go on forever.”

Following input from Bryan Bertram, an attorney with Miyares & Harrington LLP, at last week’s meeting, the committee altered its approach to be less restrictive and more focused on screening and other measures that would better protect abutters.

Regarding screening, the proposed bylaw reads: “Solar panels, supporting structures and appurtenances shall be shielded from view year-round in all zoning districts. Screening methods may include landscaping, natural features, earthen berms, fencing or a combination thereof.”

The bylaw includes a requirement that applicants provide a sight-line representation by a professional engineer or landscape architect up to 500 feet from the installation, although it was noted that the Planning Board can ask for additional views as needed.

Lumber Street solar array
This solar array at a Lumber Street residence has frequently been cited as part of the reason a stricter commercial solar bylaw was needed, as a portion of it (at the top in this photo) is clearly visible from abutting residences. PHOTO/THOMAS FITZGERALD

Ted Barker-Hook pushed to increase the sight-line representation from the original distance of 300 feet to 500 feet.

“So much of what we’re doing is based on our ugly experience on Alexander Road,” he noted, referencing the solar array on a Lumber Street residential property that abuts Alexander. “And what we saw is the Alexander Road road is about 400 feet from the installation.”

The committee also added language that addressed how a proposed solar development might affect noise, including how the removal of trees could allow, for example, nearby highway noise to increase, as well as glare.

Following discussion by the Planning Board and a public hearing, the proposed bylaw must be submitted to Town Hall by Feb. 2 in order to get on the warrant for the May 3 Town Meeting.

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