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Amesbury solar plan withdrawn; Whitehall Road abutters threatened suit over 28 proposed panels

AMESBURY – A real estate developer who planned to install more than two dozen solar panels behind a Whitehall Road property withdrew the proposal last week.

The attorney for RPB Investment Realty Development Inc. in Salisbury wrote a letter to the Planning Board asking to withdraw the application for a site plan review and to cancel a scheduled site visit by board members.

The letter by attorney Lisa Mead gave no reason for the decision.

The project didn’t win over the hearts of most neighbors, who spoke out against it at an Oct. 24 public hearing.

Robert Buthmann, president of RPB Investment Realty Development, had proposed installing 28 solar panels that would produce 96,600 kilowatts of electricity a year at the back of his 2.8-acre rental property at 145 Whitehall Road.

The solar power generated would be used to service the single-family home on the property, with the excess produced being sent to the grid. The application to the Planning Board said a deal with National Grid had not yet been finalized.

While the panels would not be visible from Whitehall Road, abutters on Barbara Drive and Unicorn Circle, a housing development off the main street, would have had a clear view of them.

Unicorn Circle resident Ed Rouillard threatened litigation. He and other neighbors feared that such a large grouping of solar panels would lower their property values and create a commercial or industrial entity in a residential neighborhood.

Had the application not been withdrawn, it could have answered, or at least begun to tackle, an exemption that solar panels have in state law.

Buthmann’s attorneys wrote that solar panels are exempt from zoning under state law, but they are subject to “reasonable regulations” to protect public health, safety or welfare.

At the public hearing, some argued that the intent of the law was aimed at protecting property owners who wanted to install solar panels on their roofs, not dozens of panels that could generate enough electricity to power more than a dozen homes.

The town’s attorney, Jonathan Silverstein, said in a letter to town code enforcement officer Denis Nadeau that there is no case law on what constitutes “reasonable regulations” for this issue.