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Lanesborough Planners Considers Limits to Solar Arrays

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Planning Board has raised the prospect of keeping large commercial solar arrays from residential areas. 
Monday's meeting was supposed to be a public hearing on three large solar arrays whose permits were extended last year.
The hearing on the three arrays proposed by Engie North America were postponed until next Monday for lack of a supermajority of the board. Only three members were able to attend but four were needed for any approvals. 
Instead, the conversation, under old business, turned to solar arrays in general and their locations within the town. Town Planner Andrew Groff said the overlay had been a guide for this type of development. 
"Lanesborough just happens to be at the cross section of several major transmission lines," he said. "That makes these projects much easier to build in Lanesborough than other places. So we have to keep it balanced because we also have to protect the landscape."
The planners were concerned about landscapes and agricultural land being covered by commercial arrays. 
"When you try to establish an overlay district, you're trying to think of places in town where this is going to be OK," said Planner Jeffrey Dechaine. "I feel like we're spending a lot of time trying to do that. I don't know how to say it. ... I feel like no matter where you think it's going to be OK all it takes is one person who lives down the road to think that it's not OK. And then you'll have a fight on your hands." 
When Planner Joseph Tybus suggested the land going up to gun club would be suitable, Deschaine said sure, except "when you drive by beautiful Pontoosuc Lake and you look up on the hill and all you see is solar panels, some will have an issue with that."
Groff said it's not necessarily thinking about the best places for solar but about "the places you absolutely ... would not want to see it. We all were in agreement that there are certain important landscapes in town."
Planner Barbara Hassan was in agreement that they would not want areas on scenic vistas but also it would affect families if they were prohibited on agricultural land. 
On the other hand, she pointed out one homeowner who had fought to have the board approve an array on her land only to find out she'd lost more than 110 feet of frontage and couldn't sell her land. 
"I think this is very important that our community understands that these are contracts with very large companies that will pull the wool over if they're going to make money," Hassan said.
It might be outside the board's purview, she said, but an educational session to caution people about what they should do before signing  a contract might be in order. 
"We all thought we were getting money for this stuff, too," said Tybus. "So it wasn't a fact that any of us really liked it, it was the fact that we couldn't stop it. And we thought we were getting money."
Hassan said she didn't have an issue with arrays in commercial and industrial areas but not in residential areas. Tybus and Dechaine were supportive of the idea as well. 
Hassan had put forth a petition at town meeting last year to eliminate commercial arrays from residential areas that failed. She said she would "dig it up" for discussion at a future meeting.  
"if you disallow it in the residential and the residential agricultural zones, you've pretty much are taken care of a big part of the town, and I can reopen up that and put that back out there," she said. The only reason it got denied, she said, because of arguments it would hurt seniors — but then a senior got hurt signing a contract with an array. 
"I've spent enough time on solar, that it just seems like it's a lose-lose," Dechaine said. 
A discussion of a mixed commercial zoning district was also on the agenda but Groff said he did not have an update since it had been expected the public hearing to take up the bulk of the meeting. 
"Hopefully December we won't have any major business like special permits or other issues to go over and really, really delve into this discussion in December in January," he said. 
Hassan had asked that the now closed Berkshire Mall be looked at for mixed commercial. She didn't think it was a rush after getting some feedback that it was probably too far away from major regions for use as a distribution center. 
"Today I got an inquiry that somebody wanted to park some big tractor trailers there and use an office space there," she said. "So, you know, having that kind of a added feature to the use of the mall is probably ... people have inquired about using the mall for storage and facilities as such than any other, other than the marijuana industry."
Cannabis production is another of the issues the board has planned to discuss over the winter. 
"This is a project that we're really heavily involved to the north in Williamstown, right now and there is a ton of information out there about this," said Groff, who is also town planner there. "And there's a lot that's still unknown but we're working on trying to figure it out."
The Williamstown Planning Board will hosting a panel discussion they might interested in in December with people involved in the large outdoor growing operation on Barker Road in Pittsfield, a Sheffield farmer and others, he said. 

Tags: Planning Board,   solar array,   

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Pittsfield Seeks Solutions to Daytime Warming Shelters for Homeless

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Mayor Linda Tyer this week said the city of Pittsfield is feeling discouraged from the lack of community organizations willing to host a warming shelter that will house homeless individuals during the hours that the St. Joseph's temporary winter shelter on Maplewood Avenue is closed.

"We're concerned too, and we're feeling quite discouraged that a number of our community partners have declined our request to help with a daytime warming center but we're not going to give up," she said at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio addressed the mayor with two petitions in regard to the homeless population.

Maffuccio requested that the mayor, or other departments or organizations, provide an update on the plans for a warming station for the homeless and that the mayor develops a task force for the purpose of developing a permanent housing solution for chronically homeless residents.

These petitions were both referred to Tyer by the council.

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