BREWSTER – If you hear echoes of Brewster’s battle to construct twin wind turbines in the effort to regulate all proposed large-scale solar arrays in town – you hear right.
The planning board’s draft zoning article for the fall town meeting would change the “by right” siting of town sponsored arrays to a special permit process requiring planning board approval. All other large projects (250kw or more) would also need a special permit.
Last year the planning effectively denied a special permit for the two 410-foot turbines that would’ve been constructed through the auspices of the Cape and Vineyard Electric Co-operative off Freeman’s Way. The board of selectmen drew up an article for the spring town meeting to exempt the turbines from the special permit process, and to allow them “by right” on town land, but it failed to get the required two-thirds vote (it got 64 percent).
CVEC has approved an appeal to the state Department of Public Utilities, however, that is on hold and Wednesday they issued a request for proposals to build a solar array instead. But if the draft zoning rules are adopted the solar array would face another special permit review, something the selectmen are worried about.
“They have concerns this may impede the process,” explained planning board chairman Rich Kuzman, who attended the selectman’s meeting two weeks ago.
Special permitting falls under Massachusetts Chapter 40A Zoning and would require notifying the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program and complying with a set of rules issued by Brewster covering a site plan review, photo simulation of the project, maintenance plans, liability insurance, setbacks, light pollution, screening, security, safety, soil erosion, land clearing, decommissioning and financial surety.
“Anything that further encumbers the process is going to affect the financing of the project,” Selectman John Dickson told the planning board last week. “The special permitting process introduces uncertainty and time.”
“We don’t want to throw a monkey wrench into what the town wants to do,” agreed Elizabeth Taylor of the planning board.
But the planning board has also been down this road before.
“I appreciate you’re trying to make it so the town can do what a citizen can’t do,” planning board member Scott Collum countered. “You guys may be bothered that another board is taking (power) away from the board of selectmen. The reason we did this is so the town can’t do whatever it wants and clear everything away. Citizens will have the opportunity to come to the (planning) board and make sure it’s not overdone.”
Collum was a no vote on the turbines as was John McMullen.
“The selectmen look at it from the business standpoint of making a deal,” McMullen said. “We’re looking at it from the ethics standpoint. As the whether it fits in town.”
CVEC has already has a project in the pipeline at the transfer station and My Generation Energy has plans in for arrays at the water department and at Captains Golf Course. None are grandfathered in.
“We have concerns with both the municipal refuse district (transfer station), in terms of the contract that’s already signed with CVEC and the possible solar array to be done at Commerce Park,” said Dickson. “If the numbers look better than the turbines we would do a solar array instead of the turbines. We feel those uses are what the town meeting voted for last year, which made solar arrays on town owned land a permitted use.”
The town meeting passed Article 33 with a two-thirds majority on May 2, and the summary specifically cited Commerce Park, the transfer station and Captains Golf Course. May 2010 town meeting gave the selectmen the right to negotiate leases for solar arrays on town property.
Dickson suggested the proposed article be re-written to target private projects.
“That is a different issue from developing solar on town land, for which we have consistent support at town meeting,” he noted.
“I don’t know if it’s right to have one board have all the power all the time,” Collum countered.
“The board of selectmen would have public comment on any issue, the board of selectmen is not a group that goes forward without public input,” Dickson answered. “This was just on the town meeting floor this spring.”
The board debated what exactly was approved in the spring.
“If the town meeting voted to let solar arrays in the municipal refuse district why are we putting a special permit there?” wondered board member John Leaning, who earlier supported the special permit rules.
“Now we’re talking about back tracking,” agreed Taylor.
“Town owned and private, as far as I’m concerned, are both the same,” countered McMullen. “Why is the town different from the public?”
”There’s a big difference,” Dickson said. “There is a limited amount of town-owned land in those districts and you’re not going forward based on a single owner of a parcel but it’s determined by an elected board.”
The selectmen weren’t the only folks objecting to the permit rule.
“The energy committee voted seven days ago, they do not support the article as written. They would like to work with the planning board (on it),” reported Jillian Douglass, assistant town administrator, adding, “On town projects the lease comes back to citizens to be voted at town meeting, so it gets a further level of review.”
But the planning board is also a process of review.
“We’re trying to provide a forum to the town on issues such as this,” McMullen explained.
After lengthy debate the issue the discussion on this and the proposed set of rules covering solar arrays was continued until the next meeting on Sept. 28.
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