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Whatever the outcome, open process serves town

On March 26, my children and I attended a Dartmouth Planning Board meeting. We witnessed discussions regarding the amendment to the solar bylaw being co-sponsored by Joseph and Colleen Noseworthy and my wife, Gloria Bancroft.

They’ve proposed to amend the Large-Scale Solar Installation Zoning Bylaw No. 37 to prohibit such industrial-sized projects from all residential zones. Their goal that night was to introduce their amendment in preparation for the April 9 Public Hearing. A report is expected from the board prior to an April 24 special Town Meeting. As we sat there, I asked myself; “How did my wife get us here?”

For us, this journey started back in early February as I drove by the Hixville fire station and noticed a massive tree clearing effort near the station and historic cemetery. We quickly learned that a resident leased his 24 acres to a solar project developer.

A large-scale solar facility just seemed an odd fit for that location, surrounded mostly by residents. How did we not know a project of this magnitude was coming? My wife reflected back on past town meetings and certainly recollected discussing wind turbines, and some limited discussions regarding solar projects. The answer was a new zoning bylaw passed at the June 2011 annual Town Meeting to permit large-scale ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installations in all zoning districts.

After blasting followed the clear cutting, we were contacted by other residents who were outraged that this could happen without any advance warning. My wife felt as a Town Meeting member she needed to become better informed. Since then, residents have been trying to understand the bylaw’s benefits and costs. Time has been spent appearing before town boards, and talking with town officials and numerous residents.

It was determined that the soonest way to prevent further drastic changes to the town’s residential areas was to collect the required signatures for a petition calling for a special Town Meeting. This meeting would allow Town Meeting members to revisit this bylaw and decide whether the continued installation of such industrial sized facilities in residential zones serves the town’s common good.

On that night, discussions with the Planning Board were cordial for the most part, and elicited good debate. My wife cited examples of towns in the state that have successfully designated zones for such projects. Mr. Noseworthy and my wife were cautioned that they may be labeled as NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), even though neither are abutters to any of the current projects.

Another question is posed by the board as to why there were no outraged abutters there that night. My wife responded that the public hearing is scheduled for April 9, not that night. As discussions continued, two things become clear to me:

First, everyone has varying opinions but no one has yet shared the town’s specific vision for large-scale solar projects that led to the drafting of this bylaw

Second, it is not politically correct to be against any form of green energy, especially one that is supported by significant government subsidies.

My takeaway from the meeting was that Planning Board members are dedicated public servants who feel they are acting in the town’s best interest. The chairman gave everyone in attendance an opportunity to speak. However, we, the town residents, have to ask ourselves what we think is the right vision for Dartmouth when it comes to utilizing large parcels of land to generate solar power.

Is it to supply solar power for all town facilities, specific industries, residential areas, the entire town or the entire SouthCoast? Most town officials have shown no desire to place any limits on the number of these installations. Therefore, this seems to indicate that the solar power generated from the industrial-sized projects at Reed Road, Industrial Park, Hixville Road, Energy Park, High Hill Road or Fisher Road aren’t enough to meet their vision.

In the car ride home, my children shared that some members of the board clearly did not agree with mom. I responded by telling them; “It’s OK for people to agree to disagree. That is why you should never be afraid to stand up and speak for what you believe in. People may not agree with you, but you can open their minds to a different view.”

Paul Bancroft lives in Dartmouth.