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A bird's-eye view of the massive solar array being built off Reservoir Road.
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View of the array using from the top of East Quincy Street.
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Clean Energy's Director and Project Manager Michael Whigham and Director of Real Estate and Permitting Joseph Shanahan told the board they will try to acquire the renderings.

North Adams Planners Want Original Solar Array Renderings

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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Building Inspector William Meranti said he does not know what happened to the original renderings after the meeting.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Planning Board called a solar array developer on the carpet Monday for failing to comply with the visual renderings it presented.

But no one can find the plans that the board approved.

A 1.32-megawatt solar array off Reservoir Road has sparked complaints because of its high visibility from numerous points on the city's east side. The board says the plans submitted last year portrayed a much different view with a far less visible array.

Clean Energy Collective representatives were asked to return on Monday with the original renderings of the project.  

"We certainly have been hearing from many people in the community and based on our memory of the original hearing that we held on this, the actual view we are seeing of the site is far more intrusive than what we had thought we have been promised," Chairman Michael Leary said.

Joseph Shanahan, Clean Energy's director of real estate and permitting, said he was not part of the original approval and planning of the array and wanted to see the renderings for himself because he was unfamiliar with them. He said he went over the minutes from the original meeting last year and he understood that the renderings were given to the board. He added that he requested the original renderings from the city but they were unavailable.

Building Inspector William Meranti said the renderings were presented to the board during the initial meeting but they were not part of the applicant's package. He said he does not know where the renderings are.

Shanahan added that the employee who drew up the renderings is no longer with the company and he is trying to get in touch with the landscape architect who aided in the project to see if he has any copies.

However, he said his company's engineers have indicated that the project is "right on the money" in terms of what they were supposed to do. Clean Energy has 30 projects throughout the state, he said, and has never run into this situation.

Shanahan asked for specific complaints and said because the project is built on an elevated spot above a valley it will be visible at higher elevations on the other side of the valley. He added that the site was picked because it was the least obtrusive.

"If someone is on the other side of the valley looking down they are going to get a different perspective and our main concern is to be as unobtrusive as we can to roadways, residential abutters, and the community at large," he said. "It has a significant natural buffer and screening but if you get in an aircraft obviously, you are going to see it."

Leary disagreed and said the area can be seen from the Mohawk Trail and even from lower elevations. The cleared area above the so-called Coca-Cola Ledge can be seen from Church Street campus of Massachusetts College of Liberal Art and neighborhoods on the east side of Church.

"Most people that come here and view the mountains don't fly over the mountains in an airplane but they do come down the Mohawk Trail and the view from the trail is, in their opinion, blighted now," he said. "I have heard from people down below that your description was not accurate and there has been more work done than they thought would be done."

Leary suggested the board call Clean Energy Collective back to a December meeting after Shanahan obtains the original renderings so they can be compared to what the site actually looks like now.

"I think we need to find the artwork that we are talking about and take a comparative look," he said. "We may have some recommendations to alleviate the situation that we are in right now or move towards a resolution."

Shanahan agreed.

"We are here for the next 25 years, we are your neighbors and we want to be a good corporate citizen," he said. "I will be happy to do whatever I can in that regard."

 Shanahan said when he returns in December, he will also be asking for a modification of the site plans to add an access road.

Meranti said National Grid filed a cease-and-desist notice on the solar project because construction vehicles were zig-zagging in and out of the high-tension lines area.

Shanahan said Clean Energy has come to a temporary agreement with National Grid and plans to bring a formal permanent agreement to the December meeting.

Director and Project Manager Michael Whigham told the board that National Grid said they can continue working and they will only have to remove four to five trees to install the new access road once the board approves the modification.

Also, in regard to solar facilities, the Planning Board voted to recommend additions to the proposed Solar Energy Systems zoning ordinance.

"Obviously one of the areas that we are most sensitive to is what we have just discussed tonight and that is appearance and assurance that such projects that come before the city actually do appear as they are presented," Leary said. "We don't want to end up with surprises and if we do, we want enforcement."

The board agreed to recommend that all solar projects must obtain a special permit before construction and that the board can ask for up to five sight lines.

In other business, the board:

Voted to allow the new Cumberland Farms on Union Street to install a 6-foot white vinyl fence on the north side of the property and a chain link fence on the south side.

A Cumberland Farms representative said this was an agreement that was recently made with concerned abutters.

Voiced its concerns about a new restaurant in the Valley Park Bowl building that never came before the board.

Meranti said he believes it is just a name change but plans to visit it. He said it also opened without Health Department approval.

Allowed Todd Herbert, owner of Another Man's Treasure, to extend the hours of his Union Street antique shop from 10 to 8.

The Redevelopment Authority, meeting prior to the Planning Board, voted to allow Evan Webb, owner of Berkshire Kettlebells, to move from his Eagle Street location to the Oasis Plaza.

Tags: Planning Board,   solar array,   

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