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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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Lanesborough Approves $10M Budget, Warrant Articles at Annual Meeting

By Joe DurwiniBerkshires Staff

There was a great deal of discussion despite the low turnout.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — About 85 residents affirmed 27 warrant articles, including an fiscal 2022 budget of $10,148,561, at a sometimes boisterous four-hour annual town meeting Tuesday night.

Bri Morrison, a candidate for Select Board in June 15's election, kicked off the voting early with a motion to postpone the meeting altogether, citing low attendance that she felt reflects a general lack of accessibility to the proceedings. 

Morrison suggested a lack of provided child care and American Sign Language or Spanish languages interpreters, and the absence of documents available in Braille could all serve as barriers to participation for residents.

"It's very concerning to me the casual flippancy of which we have such a small representation of the town," said Morrison, before making a formal motion for postponement. "It's not going to be a representative democracy, and if that's like what we love about this country, then that's, like, something we need to honor and protect — instead of just an oligarchy government, which is the privileged few that are able to come here tonight, because their schedules and lives permitted it, that they get to decide what laws get adopted by the town."

This motion led to some of the first back-and-forth between residents, in a meeting that was rife with out-of-order comments, bickering and speaking interruptions, and no little amount of tension in the room. It was ultimately defeated 70-10.

Two hours were spent considering the town budget, with dozens of questions from a small handful of residents, most of them clarifying what expenditures were for or questioning aspects of the way various items were listed. 

More pronounced differences of opinion emerged over the FY22 police budget, as about 20 minutes were spent in a volley of motions to increase or alternately decrease the police budget by $10,000 Morrison launched discussion by expressing "unease" with the idea of increasing police funds.

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