Special Town Meeting set for July

  • Secret Lake Road residents William Hogan and Lori Kay (back to camera) discuss a proposed moratorium on solar arrays with Athol’s Select Board Tuesday night. File/Greg Vine

  • Planning Board Chairman David Small and Director of Planning and Community Development Eric Smith were at Tuesday's Select Board meeting to discuss plans for a special town meeting which will consider a moratorium on solar arrays. —File/Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 6/19/2019 9:50:24 PM

ATHOL – The Select Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to set Monday, July 22, as the date for a special town meeting to consider whether to enact a moratorium on the construction of solar arrays in Athol. The moratorium would remain in effect until the fall town meeting in October 2020.

The only other article on the warrant asks voters to approve taking funds from the town’s Ambulance Reserve for a new ambulance for the fire department.

The warrant for the special town meeting was opened on June 4 and closed two days later. No other articles were submitted for consideration during that time. The warrant will be posted next Monday, and the appropriate town committees will have until July 11 to make recommendations on the articles.

Board member Lee Chauvette asked if there was any sentiment for moving a proposed zoning bylaw governing solar arrays, which had been removed from the recent annual town meeting warrant to the October fall town meeting, onto the warrant for the special town meeting in July.

Planning Board Chairman David Small said it would make sense to leave things as they are.

“We’ve had some informal discussions with the full Planning Board,” said Small, “because it wasn’t on our docket this last week and everything’s happening very fast. So, the thought is, that we leave the (proposed bylaw) where it is in the fall. If the solar moratorium passes, we will pass by that in the fall and wait and do everything in the fall town meeting of October 2020.”

“If the moratorium, for some reason, should fail,” he continued, “we still have the (proposed bylaw) on the docket for the fall town meeting and we would take that up at that time. So, that’s kind of the long-range plan of how we think this should move forward.”

“We really need to do this, and I think having a full year to work on it is great,” said Small. “We have a lot of people interested now. So, this is a good time to do it.”

Athol Planning and Development Director Eric Smith said the Planning Board would hold a public hearing on the proposed moratorium on Wednesday, July 10 at 8 p.m.

Background information provided in the warrant to be posted states one reason for the moratorium is “the town has not adopted zoning requirements specifically related to Athol for such installations that balance the rights or property owners with those of abutters and with the overall needs of the town.”

It goes on to state: “Deficiencies and limitations in the town’s zoning bylaws have been documented in the recent Tufts University Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Field Project 2019 study title ‘Athol Solar Bylaw Assessment.’ In addition, the electrical distribution system is experiencing capacity issues that are being addressed by a study conducted by National Grid which is expected to be issued in 2020.”

The issue of a moratorium was first raised by Secret Lake Road residents William Hogan and Lori Kay. The pair became concerned when they learned two solar arrays were planned which required the clear-cutting of 94 acres of forest land between Lyons Hill Road and Secret Lake.

The board Tuesday night also expressed support for the second article on the special town meeting warrant, which would provide funds to replace one of the town’s two ambulances. An estimate provided to the board by Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera set the price of the new vehicle at around $305,000. The chief added there appears to be more than enough money in the Ambulance Reserve to cover the purchase.

“There has been some misinformation going around that the ambulance has been ordered,” said Guarnera. “That is absolutely incorrect. No ambulance has been ordered. Nothing has been signed. All that’s happened is, I’ve gotten the estimates so that when it comes time we can move forward. I didn’t want to waste three months getting estimates and spec-ing out the ambulance. I just wanted it all done up front.”

The July 22 special town meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in Memorial Hall. The Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 9 to vote its recommendations on the two articles.

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