Vote on temporary solar installation moratorium set for July 22

  • Solar panels in a field.  

Staff Writer
Published: 7/14/2019 9:50:08 PM
Modified: 7/14/2019 9:50:11 PM

ATHOL — Several residents attended a public hearing held by the Board of Planning and Community Development the past week to provide interested parties a chance to speak out about proposed amendments to the Athol Zoning Bylaw: New Section 3.24.16, Temporary Ground-Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Installations Moratorium. The change is scheduled for a vote at the Special Town Meeting, to be held July 22 at 7 p.m. in the Athol Town Hall.

The article asks that a temporary moratorium be enacted on the construction of solar farms, through Oct. 31, 2020. The article allows the town sufficient time to develop a comprehensive plan to protect the interests of the town and its citizens.

The Selectmen scheduled the meeting following a presentation by Lori Kay and William Hogan, Secret Lake Road residents who expressed concerns over two proposed solar arrays that would require the clear-cutting of a total of some 94 acres of woodlands on two parcels of land between Lyons Hill Road and the western shores of Secret Lake. Kay and Hogan had suggested the moratorium.

Hogan said the intent was to dedicate the time to make enhancements to the town’s existing solar bylaws. Kay submitted a letter from the Secret Lake Association supporting the moratorium.

Vaughn Road resident Lee Gersch said he has been using solar at his home for years and is “completely happy” with it. Smith commented that National Grid has a capacity restraint. Planning board member Aimee Hanson said “we all understand the demand for electricity and we have to fix the bylaws so they work for everybody.”

Mary Holtorf of Carpenter Road said she is in favor of the solar moratorium because there are deficiencies in the SMART (Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target) Program in that there are no components in the plan for solar rooftops and parking lots. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources created the incentive program that promotes cost-effective solar development in the Commonwealth.

Small said he hopes they will have some answers from the moratorium. Kay said there are municipalities that, instead of developing brownfields (previously developed land not currently in use), they are going to greenfields and the moratorium is meant to prevent small towns like Athol from becoming vulnerable to exploitation.

Small said that its an issue that is being experienced across the state. “We want to have renewable energy, we are a green community,” he said. The town has a year of planning to do before things move forward. “We very much want to get a good look at our siting process,” Small said. “It’s going to be necessary to have a conversation throughout the community.”

Conservation Commission member Brian Hall said it’s important to consider the preservation of forests and the ramifications of solar development, not just for Athol but for the world. “If they don’t come here, they’ll go to another town.” He said the town could still benefit if solar is taken elsewhere. Town Manager Shaun Suhoski said the town hall nets power from a solar farm in Hardwick and that the moratorium would allow the town time to develop a proposed plan to accommodate rooftop solar for the Town Hall.

Board member Kathy Norton asked the group to share their main concern about solar development. Holtorf replied, “industrial solar plants in residential zones.”

The Board voted in favor of recommending the moratorium.

In other business, the Board accepted the addition of 204 Freedom St. to the NewVue Liabilities to Assets (NVLTA) project. NVLTA is a Chapter 180 nonprofit corporation formed to facilitate the redevelopment of primarily one and two family properties that will be or have been vacant for three years, are deteriorated or contribute to blight conditions, and have a negative impact on their surrounding neighborhoods. There are 17 Athol properties included in the NVLTA application that may be redeveloped.

Kyle Dorow of 124 Glendale Ave., discussed rezoning his property in the residential and commercial zoning district for his auto repair business in a 42’ x 48’ building with a three-bay garage. No decisions were made by the Board so that it can conduct more thorough research on zoning bylaws.

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