DARTMOUTH – More than 50 people turned out Monday to a Select Board meeting at which residents railed against Con Edison Development’s planned solar farm on Hixville Road and board members spoke about their inability to stop it.
“We have a bylaw that says ‘You can build this,'” said board member William J. Trimble, describing how as long as the company follows Dartmouth’s bylaws, the town has no cause to block it.
George Germano, Con Edison Development’s director of engineering and asset management, presented an overview of the project, which calls for more than 9,000 solar panels on a plot of land near the Hixville Historic District. The panels would each stand approximately 8½ feet tall, according to Germano.
He said the company plans to install shrubbery to address the solar farm’s visual impact and said the benefits range from the generation of renewable energy to tax revenue for the town. The solar farm is being pursued under a town bylaw approved by the June 2011 special Town Meeting, allowing for “the by-right construction of large-scale photo voltaic installations.” By-right means construction can begin after a review by the Building Department and doesn’t require a public hearing site-plan review.
The bylaw is a requirement for Dartmouth to qualify as a Green Community, according to Paul Murphy, Dartmouth’s director of inspectional services. Green Communities are cities and towns that meet a number of criteria, such as as-of-right siting for energy facilities and purchasing only fuel-efficient vehicles, and in return receive access to a number of state grants.
Still, people living near the planned solar farm have told The Standard-Times they were angry when they began hearing the noise of the construction several weeks ago without any notice, while resident Colleen Noseworthy – who lives across the street – wondered how the town could lack authority to stop work on the site since the project doesn’t yet have a building permit.
Murphy, on Monday, confirmed that the project isn’t yet permitted, although he said Con Edison has applied for one.
In the meantime, “They’re cutting trees and they’re grading the site but there’s no prohibitions against that,” Murphy told The Standard-Times. “My authority really comes in when you start to build.”
After a lengthy address, Joe Noseworthy urged the Select Board to impose a temporary moratorium on any solar projects not yet permitted until the matter and bylaw can be reviewed either by a special Town Meeting or by Dartmouth’s annual Town Meeting.
“We think everyone is in favor of solar energy,” reads the text of a petition Joe Noseworthy presented to the Select Board Monday that he said contains more than 150 signatures gathered in three days. “Other towns took the time to review and prepare bylaws that suited their town’s best interest in not allowing these large-scale farms in residential areas.”
Joe Noseworthy said the matter isn’t a case of “Not in my backyard” but rather “a case of not in anyone’s backyard.”
The petition requests a special Town Meeting to review and potentially alter bylaw language on solar farms to bar them from residential areas.
After nearly two hours of discussion, the Select Board had not taken any action on the matter.
But “if we change the zoning tomorrow … it will not stop this project,” said Trimble, who described how among projects for alternative energy, solar farms are less obtrusive and more environmentally friendly.
Shawn McDonald criticized Con Edison for the way it proceeded with the project and indicated it would have been better if the company had made its presentation before starting work. Chairman Michael Watson spoke of his frustration about not having legal authority in the matter. He described his plans to pursue Town Meeting consideration of a bylaw amendment that would prevent a future project like this from starting any work before a building permit was issued.
Contributing writer Matt Camara contributed to this report.
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