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The ZBA last week rejected a solar array planned for the city's west side.

Pittsfield Board Denies Permit for Solar Field

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city's Zoning Board of Appeals struck down a proposed solar array site in west Pittsfield, following opposition from residential neighbors abutting the land.

By a 3-2 vote, the board ruled against the request from Aegis Renewable Energy to construct a 2.6-megawatt solar facility on undeveloped Churchill Street land.

The project had faced substantial neighbor opposition at a prior public hearing on Feb. 24, prompting developers to look at ways that its visual impact could be reduced with vegetative screening.

James Scalise of SK Design said that while the initial plan called for "a fairly dense screen" (berm) of plantings to obscure the solar setup, the company wanted to be sensitive to aesthetic concerns of neighbors and was open to coming up with a compromise.

"I would suggest that we meet with the abuttors and with a landscape architect," Scalise told the board. "If they want us to landscape that berm with different plantings or different spacing or different species, we're willing to look at all of those variables."

"In my experience, with these types of projects, a proper screen is the best approach," said Scalise.

But Churchill Street resident Ralph Cianflone Jr. said the new development would inevitably prove detrimental to over $2 million in combined property values of the surrounding four homes by changing the appearance of the abutting land.

"I don't care how much screening you put up, you're going to see it," Cianflone protested.

Furthermore, he maintained that approving this permit would "open the floodgates" to such solar projects in other residential parts of the city, a usage he felt was more appropriate in commercial zones.

Neighbor Fran Curro also fiercely opposed the plan, and suggested the city craft more "iron-clad zoning" on solar arrays "so no other neighborhood has to go through this."

Board member John J. Fitzgerald agreed with the opponents, saying the new solar apparatus was "visually detrimental," and thus does not meet the criteria for permit approval that it not negatively impact existing neighboring property usage.

"There is no way that you are going to convince me ever that this type of construction across the street from that kind of residential area with that kind of view... is ever not going to be detrimental to this community," concurred fellow board member Miriam Maduro.

"Would I want something like that next to my back yard? Absolutely not," added Maduro forcefully. "I believe in this case the public is best served if these people don't have to look out their window at an eyesore."

Board member Thomas Goggins disagreed, characterizing the proposal as a "low-impact usage" that would not create a significant change to the neighborhood.

"I think a lot of effort has been made to make sure it's not detrimental," said Googins of the site plan.

"This is very difficult," said Esther Bolen, who along with Googins voted in favor of the special permit. "Something should be done to make sure we're not put in this position again."

Tags: solar array,   ZBA,   

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