PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A 40-acre parcel on the northern end of Churchill Street, which has been the subject of debate over a recycling operation there, is now eyed for solely solar.
Churchill Solar LLC is looking to purchase the property and turn four of its six lots into a commercial solar array with the remaining two lots currently staying undeveloped.
The plan is the third iteration of use for that property. It was subdivided in 2007 to become a housing development with eight homes and when that fell through a new plan was for leasing to an organic recycling and mulch business with another company installing a solar array.
The recycling business not only triggered neighborhood complaints but the site work also infringed on wetlands protections — causing the city to issue a cease-and-desist order last year.
Now Churchill Solar, a new entity altogether, is looking to construct a solar array and the recycling business would no longer be part of the plan. The property is owned by Central Berkshire Land Development LLC and will be sold to the solar company, which, according to the secretary of state's corporation database is managed by Raipher and Joseph Pellegrino.
Engineer Brent White, of White Engineering, said the new plan addresses neighbors' concerns as he had attempted to craft a plan that limited sightlines for each individual property. The plan calls for berms and new trees to be screen the array. White added that the "amount of sound generated from this will be quite minimal" and not exceeding 60 decibels.
Neighbors, however, still have concerns from the type of trees being planted, to the sizes, to whether or not they can believe the newest concept will ever be completed. The recycling company allegedly created a "stump dump" and damaged wetlands, which still haven't been cleaned and fixed.
White said the material the Conservation Commission wants cleaned up is eyed to be used in creating the berms to shield the project from neighbors. He said the property's current owners have stopped the recycling business and the clean up is expected to be included in this new project.
"A lot of that material is in our way to construct an array here," White said.
Neighbor Steven Rich, however, doesn't believe it.
"They essentially can't be trusted to complete the project," Rich said, adding that the property is still in disarray. "[The owner] has not followed through with any of his intents in the past. ... We don't have any faith on this applicant to do what they said."
He said the lots, located at 1282-1288 Churchill Street, make up the "most pristine valley" left in Pittsfield. The neighbors were OK with putting homes there but a commercial project is not an appropriate use of the site.
Rich was somewhat put at ease, as were others in the audience at the Community Development Board meeting on Tuesday night, to learn that the new plan is completely separate from the previous ones and that the new company would take ownership of the land.
"This proposal is coming before you with a new applicant," White said.
But still, a commercial use of the property is still not what the neighbors want.
Ray Jones lives next to the property and says a commercial solar array should be put on land such as dump sites or the William Stanley Business Park and not in a place with a strong ecosystem and wildlife population.
"This proposed development is being sold to us as green but there is nothing more green than Churchill Street right now," Jones said.
Jones, and his wife, Geralyn, also took issue with the use of arborvitae trees as use for screening. Geralyn said the trees are eaten by deer, which the area has many of, so the screening wouldn't work as well as thought. She added that she also has concerns about what a commercial use would do to the residential area's property values.
White said the plantings were chosen to provide a variety more in line with the neighborhood instead of a "uniform" set of plants as would be done for screening of a shopping center. Another concern of the Jones was that the trees wouldn't be large enough to block the array for a number of years, promoting the Community Development Board to recommend that the Zoning Board of Appeals insist on larger trees to start.
White also said a common driveway will be connected to Churchill in two spots and neighbors who are already deeded to use the driveway will continue to have that right.
The Community Development Board is recommending that the ZBA ensure the driveway is accessible to those who have rights to it now. The developers still need approval from the ZBA for a special permit before the project can begin.
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