One of the articles for the upcoming special town meeting asks to align zones with property lines in three areas of town. Above, the blue line shows an I1 zone on Middle Road; the red is the property lines.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A group of residents is calling for a more restrictive bylaw when it comes to large solar arrays.
A company is apparently scoping out the field bounded by Stoneybrook and Mountain View drives and Cross Road.
"The field in front of us, we've seen a lot of surveyors and it's getting us nervous," said Jeffrey Levanos, chairman of the Select Board and a resident of Mountain View Drive. "Are we going to have 20-foot high solar panels we're going to have to look at the back of?
"You can't make that look pretty no matter how you cover it."
The complaints came at Monday's public hearing on a raft of bylaw revisions to update the town's zoning. Town officials are anticipating a special town meeting by late December or early January.
The solar bylaw was completed last year but not in time for the annual town meeting in May. It was presented at Monday night's Planning Board hearing as a standalone along with a number of connected zoning amendments and additions.
Chris Gruba, a senior planner with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission who has been working on the amendments with town planners, said solar arrays can't be prohibited but the town can enforce "reasonable regulation."
Homeowners, however, asked why solar arrays couldn't be regulated the same strict way that marijuana facilities can be by limiting where they can exist.
"Why can't we just say no," asked Levanos. "I'd kind of like to nip this before it goes to the Planning Board. I want to see a setback saying it can't be 500 feet from anybody's door."
Gruber said the state is encouraging green and alternative energy. However, there was a possibility of creating an overlay district to restrict placement of commercial-style arrays in residential areas or creating setbacks that would discourage their installation.
He said he would research what options the town had for addressing large arrays in neighborhoods.
Some residents asked if the bylaw, and the one for marijuana, could simply be voted down at town meeting. Planner Carl McKinney, also the town administrator, said defeating the articles would leave the town with no control over these facilities.
The solar bylaw divides the types of solar installations in five categories requiring three different permits.
Installations on roofs or small ones on the ground require building permits; roof installations more than 6 feet off a roof's peak (usually flat roofs) or installed on the ground above 20 feet require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Adjustment; large arrays over 1/16th of acre or generating power for off-site use require a site plan review and special permit by the Planning Board.
All need to comply with setbacks and large ones are regulated in terms of screening, lighting, fenced and secured with buried utilities and bonding in place as insurance against abandonment.
"We're trying to create the best ordinance we could while complying to state law," Gruba said.
The other articles are "kind of a Rubik's Cube," he said, going through not by number but by how they would have to be passed.
Together, they would
1) first align three industrial zone areas along actual property lines to clarify districts;
2) turn two industrial 1 zones (the town dump land on West Cross Road and the former Krutiak lumber mill into industrial and service joins, allowing businesses such as medical and accounting;
3) turn the I1 zone on at the old bus yard on Middle Road to a commercial 1 zone;
4) limit marijuana production to a single I1 zone along the west side of River Road between Town Hall and the former Strong Hewat mill.
Gruba said he'd have liked to align all the zones along property lines but it was determined to start with the ones most likely to be developed.
"It really makes things much easier and helps to avoid conflicts on how things are deveoped," he said. "Ideally you would want to align every zone but we just wanted to focus on three areas because they are most likely to see construction or development."
McKinney said it was important to get the marijuana zoning bylaw in place prior to April 1, when the state will begin taking applications for licenses.
It's still unclear what the exact recommendations would be, but the town bylaw follows similar ones developed with guidance by the state. It requires growth and production to kept indoors, and lists a number of restrictions related to any sales onsite, and places a local surcharge of up to 3 percent on sales.
Among several other changes are setting standard road setbacks of 35 feet for nonindustrial and 25 for industrial rather than based on road size; decreasing lot size from a half-acre to a third for properties with access to North Adams water and sewer; allowing maximum lot coverage from 50 percent to 75 in industrial zones; and allowing split frontage of 125 feet (down from 250) in upland conservation zones.
McKinney said frontage in UC zones would largely affect the state's payment-in-lieu-of-taxes in the town's benefit based on potential building lots on state land.
Resident Paula Wells, however, was concerned that there was no guarantee the state would not sell of that mountain land.
"I want to look at the mountains," she said. "I don't want to look at houses."
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