DARTMOUTH – A planned solar farm cleared a key hurdle Tuesday, winning a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals despite some strong opposition.
The variance, which includes several conditions, allows the Fisher Road project to move forward even though solar farms of its size are barred from residential zones.
“I’m very pleased,” said Mary O’Donnell of No Fossil Fuel after the vote. O’Donnell plans to build a 21,000-panel, six-megawatt farm on just under 30 acres owned by Philip DeMoranville.
In April, voters at a special Town Meeting amended a solar bylaw to block ground-mounted projects of this scale from residential zones. That vote came amid concerns from residents about ConEdison Development’s building of a more than 9,000-panel project in a residential neighborhood on Hixville Road.
“I just think (the special Town meeting vote) was a knee-jerk reaction to a very, very bad project that occurred elsewhere,” said Board of Appeals Chairman Michael Travers before joining Jacqueline Figueiredo and Jay Peabody in the 3-0 vote for the variance.
Discussion focused on how denying the variance could represent a substantial hardship for the applicant. State law requires that to be demonstrated for a variance to be granted. The board also considered the law’s requirement that the variance not hurt the public good and not stray significantly from the intent of the bylaw.
The variance’s many conditions include not removing topsoil from the site and not expanding the farm. While stressing the need for conditions, Peabody said the land is remote and the site’s features would limit residential development. He added that the project wouldn’t require town services.
While Town Meeting voted to bar large solar farms from residential areas, Peabody said meeting members didn’t block the appeals board’s power to grant a variance. By contrast, a more recent Town Meeting vote on wind turbines did prevent the board from granting this type of exception.
In crafting April’s solar bylaw change, “unfortunately we went by the recommendation of (town) counsel,” said Colleen Noseworthy, an amendment co-sponsor who opposed O’Donnell’s variance bid. “It’s just a travesty. … I understand the uniqueness of this site but the bottom line is residential is residential.”
At the special Town Meeting, Planning Director Donald Perry said the bylaw change would allow for a “temporary moratorium” on large solar projects while the Planning Board develops a revised bylaw for fall Town Meeting.
O’Donnell’s variance has “circumvented that process,” said Joseph Noseworthy, who co-sponsored the solar amendment.
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