North Adams Solar Developer Hopes to Solve Unsightliness
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Developers of a solar array project being built off Reservoir Road have agreed to review its visual impact and come back to the Planning Board with detailed solutions.
The 1.32-megawatt solar array on 25 acres above Coca-Cola Ledge has drawn scores of complaints because of its high visibility from numerous points on the city's east side.
Co-owner Joseph B. Shanahan Jr., the company's director of real estate and permitting, said on Monday that the company was willing to work with the city but it couldn't rectify a "purported discrepancy" without understanding what the deviation was.
"I need to go out on site from different perspectives and have someone say, 'hey if you could do that 180 foot and screen it,' I'd be a happy camper," he said. "Those are the things I might be able to do ...
"I'm not revisiting old ground but that's what I've been trying to do for 10 weeks."
The agreement came after nearly a half hour of sometimes heated debate over how close Clean Energy Collective complied with its permit. The solar array insists that it has followed the approved plans to a T; the Planning Board, however, says it hasn't.
The sore point is a rendering created by an employee who no longer works with the company that was presented to the board at the April 2015 hearing. Neither the city nor the company says it can find a copy that shows what the project was estimated to look like from a higher vantage point.
"To me, the words 'purported discrepancy' tell me you don't think there was such a plan," said Chairman Michael Leary, later adding, "I saw the plan and what's built up there now doesn't look like what's in that plan."
Shanahan said all the plans were reviewed with no opposition and it wasn't until the end of the hearing that one member asked about the visuals and the rendering was pulled out. The permit makes no reference to the rendering, he said, but rather to the site plans and other documents supplied when the application was submitted.
"It was presented as an afterthought. It was not presented as part of the plan," he said. "The board never made it a condition of approval."
Leary, however, said the board's decision was based on all the documents provided, including the rendering.
"This board saw that plan and felt comfortable going forward based on that plan," he said, called the mountains the "jewels in our community." "People have been angry saying it doesn't look anything like as shown."
The board and Shanahan went back and forth over whether renderings are required, with Shanahan saying he's never had to supply visuals in his 30 projects and the planners incredulous because they say the city's solar bylaw based on the state model bylaw
law demands them.
Shanahan said he'd tried twice to set up a meeting to view the property with the board and abuttors but heard nothing back, providing the board and iBerkshires with the emails he sent. The visual impact of the array may have been further exacerbated by about an acre land cleared by a neighbor, he said.
"I came out here as a good citizen and neighbor to find out what the discrepancies are," he said. "If someone can tell me what they want, I can maybe do it."
It was agreed that he would meet with Building Inspector William Meranti, view the array from several angles with him and then return with a plan and renderings to mitigate the visual impact.
The board also approved two other aspects of the project: a modified access road and changes in seeding to better aid pollinators.
In other business:
• An application by Peter Wheeler was approved for the operation of a cafe in the former Oh, Crepe! space at 59 Main St. on condition he provide a professional rendering of his sandwich-board sign.
Wheeler said he plans to keep the crepe-making part of the business but also add on baking machines, soup crocks and possibly a countertop oven. He will offer crepes, sandwiches/paninis, soups and more breakfast items. Meranti said he would have to work with the health and building departments because of the limitations of the space, which is not set up as a kitchen but rather a heating/serving area.
Wheeler hopes to open March 1 and have hours from 7 to 4.
• MountainOne was approved for sign changes on its North Adams properties. The banking company is moving to use the MountainOne branding only; the new signs are blue and white.
• Cumberland Farms Inc.'s request for a Form A to combine two adjoining parcels at 580 and 594 Union St. was approved. The new Union Street convenience store was built on the two sites. Devon Ward of Bohler Engineering said joining the lots would be the final step in cleaning up the title and making it clear the entire lot is under one owner.
• The board extended Barry Garton's special permit on the West End Market until Dec. 31, 2017. The vacant but historic market has been under extended deadlines as Garton has been working to move his own or another business into it to keep the site commercial.
• A letter informing the board that Family Dollar had changed owners and providing new renderings for a Dollar Express sign was reviewed and filed.
• Matt Berger was reluctantly approved to sell e-cigarettes, vapors, e-liquids and accessories at his Eagle Street Music business at 81 Main St. Planners were concerned about the sales in a venue where children take music lessons. David Berger, his father and business agent, said the items would be stored in a glass showcase and there would be signage.
"We're going to abide whatever the building inspector says," he said. The store already offers clothing and costume jewelry to supplement its music operations.
"I understand it's extremely difficult to make enough money to maintain a business," said Planner Brian Miksic, noting children also go into convenience stores where cigarettes are sold.
Editor's note: Sentence clarified to show the state has no law, but rather a "model bylaw."
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