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Questions Linger for Adams Planners Over Solar Bylaw

By Dan Gigliotti
iBerkshires Correspondent
01:01AM / Tuesday, December 03, 2013
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The Planning Board discussed factors for a proposed solar installation bylaw on Monday.

ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board took up the matter of drafting provisions for a new solar bylaw during its workshop meeting on Monday.

After more than two hours of discussion, the workshop yielded more questions than answers.

The board examined the intricacies of the language that will eventually create a new bylaw to be applied to future site plan proposals and special permit applications.

The board identified the size of solar panel arrays and locations as key factors to potentially allow or restrict with its draft of a bylaw. According to Chairwoman Barbara Ziemba, the main focus of the Planning Board is its power in future rulings on such matters.

"Our biggest concern was, we did want the Planning Board to be the permit-granting authority in all solar installations," Ziemba said.

Current town laws dictate that the Zoning Board of Appeals has special permit granting authority, unless specified otherwise.

According to Community Development Director Donna Cesan, there is a precedent for the specification of the Planning Board to rule on special permits regarding unique project proposals, for instance a personal wireless service project.

Planner Sandra Moderski said she believes the board should have full authority to rule over the permitting of special applications for solar panel projects, not only because of the nature of the considerations it generally uses to rule on matters, but because of experience and public confidence.

"The Planning Board routinely deals with issues where these large-scale, ground-mounted solar projects may be placed," Moderski said. "We routinely review site plans and various issues that come into play with projects."

She continued, "You also have an elected board, that's the Planning Board, and you have an appointed board, which is the Zoning Board. And I think the people of this community put a lot of faith into people who are elected, whether it be Planning Board, Selectmen, etc. And if you look at the members of this Planning Board, we have probably over 100 years worth of experience, all five of us sitting here."

Moderski also said the town can benefit from other town boards and committees attend Planning Board meetings to collaborate on rulings.

The Planning Board will meet next on Dec. 23, when Cesan recommends it agree on a final draft of the solar bylaw for review of the ZBA, Board of Selectmen and Conservation Commission. The final version will ultimately be decided at the annual town meeting in February or March, according to Cesan.

The development of a solar project bylaw was prompted by the contentious hearings over a proposal by 300 East Road Solar Project LLC to install more than 6,000 panels on the East Road site 

Questions raised during Monday's meeting included whether any bylaw should provide language exclusively for solar panel array projects that are large scale, as opposed to small scale, and how that is potentially defined by the town. The board, along with members of the public, decided that acreage is the best way to define a project's size parameters rather than energy output. Cesan also suggested that the board consider the distinction between ground-mounted arrays and all other types.

One resident in attendance also queried the efficacy of defining health, safety and welfare in regard to solar arrays.

The proposed bylaw may have some immediacy considering state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan announced Monday that Adams is one of 15 communities selected to participate in the Solarize Mass program, which is designed to increase the adoption of small-scale photovoltaic systems by home and business owners. Williamstown and Lee participated in the first round of the program.


Tags: Planning Board,   solar array,   special permit,   ZBA,   

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