Planners Erin Scott, Gregory Vigna, Vincent King and Karin Robert look over the plans for the solar carports.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Planning Board says the structures at the former country club are ground-mounted solar arrays; the developer says they are carports with solar-panel roofs.
The debate over the definition of the structures — and whether there was a permit issued for their construction — lead to heated exchanges between town officials and the owner at last week's Planning Board meeting.
"They're solar arrays masquerading as carports," said Planning Board member Karin Robert.
The three structures were installed by BVD Solar, a solar development company owned by Todd Driscoll, who also owns the golf course. Driscoll pointed out several times during the evening that he does not own structures but builds them for solar companies.
Driscoll and his attorney, Michael MacDonald, say they have a building permit allowing for the canopies. However, the town's building inspector, B.J. Church, refuted that and the Planning Board says it should have signed off on the project. Both sides accused the other of lying.
The issue came to the forefront at a Select Board hearing a couple weeks ago when National Grid requested a pole placement to service the structures. A number of residents attended the hearing to register complaints about the work. The hearing was continued until the town could get some answers.
MacDonald said he had made numerous attempts to obtain a copy of the town's solar bylaws last year, including contacting the planners and speaking with the administrative assistant, who he confused with the town clerk. He had not been able, he said, to find out what the Planning Board's role was or if a special permit was required.
"I just wanted to so you know, the point is, from my mind, I did everything humanly possible to get a hold on the rules and regulations in the town," he said. "By statute, they should be with the town clerk."
Town officials acknowledged that it can be difficult to get information in a small town. However, they felt that Driscoll and MacDonald had not been upfront.
"Maybe we don't get back to people as quick as possible, but it doesn't give that entity the right to go ahead and order what you need and go ahead and continue your construction without the proper permits," said Select Board Chairman Ronald Boucher.
MacDonald said they weren't trying to "fastball" the town but there were a lot of moving parts and once certain things fell into place, they moved forward believing they had a permit based on their correspondence with the town.
The planners also tried to determine if the canopies were allowable, believing them to be small-scale solar that would fall under the bylaw.
Driscoll categorized them as carports, saying he has been building them in other parts of the state, including Pittsfield, with nothing more than a building permit. Roof-mounted solar panels are allowed by right.
Carports are defined in state building code as roofed structures with no more than two wall used for storing vehicles or other equipment or materials.
"It could have a tin roof on it but it doesn't need it because the glass is thick enough," Driscoll said. "The solar panels are the roof."
But the planners were more focused on the square footage, which would make it large scale commercial.
"When when you first came to us, we assumed it was not as large as what happened," said Planner Erin Scott, noting the coverage was more than 20,000 square feet. "It's large-scale solar. ... By definition, large-scale solar, anything over 1/32nd of an acre, which is like 150 square feet ... and anything over 1,300 square feet is large-scale solar."
MacDonald argued it was not based on the town's own bylaw and those of other communities.
Town officials have been frustrated with the country club project, which has gone through several iterations over the years. It began as a full-scale golf course expansion and renovation under a prior owner but last year was presented as a redevelopment of the clubhouse
, a small portion of the course and the introduction of tiny homes. A large commercial solar array is already installed. In between, the developer has begun or done several projects without proper permitting, including a gravel road that Planner Gregory Vigna pointed out.
The planners put off making any decisions since they were just seeing the plans that night. But Driscoll warned that the town could be facing a lawsuit from the solar energy owner because the deadline for bringing the power online had passed.
"They're going to file a lawsuit. I'm just telling you. I've got a million dollars sitting up there," he said. "They're not stupid."