Raipher Pellegrino, of Heliovaas, said the solar array would be a good neighbor.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A large solar array proposed for Churchill Street has triggered significant outcry of opposition from neighbors.
Churchill Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Heliovaas, is looking to construct five solar arrays on 40 acres of land near the Lanesborough border. The plans encompass four lots that were previously subdivided with a plan to construction residential homes as well as a separate array on adjacent land owned by Michael Bianco.
In total, each array will be 499 kilowatts taking up around 20 acres of the land.
"We're in the long-term business of owning and operation which is substantially different to other companies who build them and try to sell them out," Raipher Pellegrino, of Heliovaas, said.
The property itself has had a contentious history. In 2007, the parcels were planned to host a 50 or so homes as a residential subdivision. But the Community Development Board shot that plan down.
Later, a new plan emerged to do just eight homes that did receive support but was never completed. More recently, Amerigreen Recycling leased the land for a mulching and recycling businesses but was forced to halt operations because it was found to be infringing on the wetlands area.
Now, Churchill Solar, which had nothing to do with these previous project, is looking to buy the lot for its array. According to Brent White of White Engineer, who has been working on the project, the scale of the five arrays need to be that size to offset the cost of bringing three-phase power to the site.
On Wednesday, even more neighbors showed up to oppose the project when it came before the Zoning Board of Appeals for the special permit it needs to move forward.
"You will completely change the character of this neighborhood. This is a huge array," Churchill Street resident Steven Rich said.
Rich called the commercial array an "improper use of the land" that he characterized as having one of the most pristine views in the city. He said the neighbors were fine with the plan to build it out as residential, which conforms with the character of the neighborhood, but not with commercial usages.
Madeline and Andrew Polidoro just purchased their home on Peck's Road. The young couple said the tranquil characteristic of the area is what attracted them to buying the house but that could all be taken away with a commercial array in their back yard.
"We have beautiful valley property views and these views would be obstructed with this project," Madeline Polidoro said.
Those in opposition say the commercial use of the land will devalue their property.
White said since the Community Development Board meeting, the developers have met with forestry experts to change the screening plantings to address concerns raised by neighbors. For example, Geralyn and Ray Jones took aim at arborvitae trees because deer tend to eat them, which would limit the effectiveness of the screening. White changed the proposal to use white pines instead.
White said on the northern end, 4-foot tall landscaped berms and 8- to 10-foot trees will act as screening. On the southern side, 5-to 6-foot tall trees will be plants — shorter because that is the area the arrays need to be shadeless, on the western side 8- to 10-foot trees, and existing trees limit visibility to the east. Holly bushes will be planted in the field. Further, White said he worked out plans to make sure the distance between the trees provide enough coverage.
"We've changed it at an increased cost to us to make sure the vegetation that goes there will be appropriate," Pellegrino said.
Ray Jones, however, says his property on the northern end is some 120-feet higher in elevation. It doesn't matter what kind of trees are planted, they'll never be tall enough to screen the site from his property, he said. Jones also questioned what happens when the panels need to be removed and called for some type of escrow account to ensure the land is restored back to the way it was should operation halt.
The neighbors already distrust developers of that land. Amerigreen's recycling business may have halted but neighbors say it operated as a "stump dump" for years and nothing has been cleaned up.
"That has certainly been the most contentious issue. It is not so much the solar, it is some of the past actions on the property," White said.
The Community Development Board opted to take a site visit before rendering a decision on the special permit.
Pellegrino said his company will be buying the land and taking on the Conservation Commission's order to clean up that land. The recycling business leased the land and the cleanup is tied to property owners.
Churchill Solar says the property needs to be cleaned to accommodate the solar arrays anyway and are willing to put the cleanup as a requirement to the permits.
As far as decommissioning goes, Pellegrino said the material of the solar panels are worth more than the labor to remove them. But, he'd still be willing to consider a long-term escrow account.
"If we leave the site, we want to leave it as we came to it," he said.
Other neighbors, however, said the project also eliminates building lots because of easement agreements made under the previous subdivision. Pellegrino said he would work with the residents one on one to make sure those rights are still respected.
Pellegrino added that the solar array would be a good neighbor as well as benefit the city of Pittsfield.
"This is a commercial tax payer paying the city who will not be issuing the services. There is no taxpayer. There are no school children," he said.
In the end, the Zoning Board of Appeals said it wanted a site visit and to review the pages of information and photos both the developer and the residents presented. The issue was continued until Sept. 14.
"There is a lot of information, frankly, and I think we'd like to make a good decision based on all of the evidence we have and to the best of our ability," Chairman Albert Ingegni.
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