STURBRIDGE – A moratorium on solar farms, a restrictive bylaw on solar farms, renovations to the library’s children’s room and the establishment of a veteran’s volunteer service program will be in the hands of voters at tonight’s special town meeting.
The special town meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Tantasqua Regional High School.
Sponsored by the Board of Selectmen and endorsed by the Planning Board, the solar farms article, if passed, would impose a temporary moratorium on large-scale solar photovoltaic facilities (solar farms) and wind energy systems in Sturbridge through Jan. 31, 2014, until proposed zoning amendments and environmental controls can be developed.
With the exception of the immediate corridors along state highways, Sturbridge is predominantly a rural and undeveloped community. Currently, there are no large-scale wind or ground-mounted solar farms in town, although a municipal solar farm installation is being purposely planned for industrial-zoned, publicly owned property along a state highway corridor.
The community has identified a need to establish long-term zoning regulations to ensure that such uses and development will be consistent with the town’s long-term planning interests, the article states. Notwithstanding any other provision in the town’s zoning bylaw to the contrary, if passed, no building permit may be issued for the construction of any large-scale wind energy system or large-scale ground-mounted solar farm, until Feb. 1, 2014, unless such facility is to be developed with the town’s direct involvement.
A citizen petition that the Planning Board does not favor is asking for a zoning bylaw amendment on solar facilities. Selectmen have not taken a public stand on the proposal.
If passed, ground-mounted solar energy facilities on municipal and school district properties would be permitted in all districts upon site plan approval from the Planning Board. Solar facilities for one- and two-family dwellings would also be exempt.
However, large- and small-scale solar facilities would be prohibited in the suburban residential, rural residential, commercial, commercial tourist, historical commercial and commercial II districts, but would be allowed in the general industrial, industrial park and special use districts.
In addition, ground-mounted solar energy facilities would have a setback from front, side and rear property lines and public ways of at least 100 feet in special use and industrial districts and only 20 percent of a parcel’s total square footage could be used for a solar facility. In addition, the site plan shall provide a natural vegetative buffer of 200 feet between a large solar energy facility and a property in residential use, including houses across a street.
•Selectmen are seeking authorization to establish a volunteer service program for veterans.
If the article is passed, qualifying veterans could do services for the town in exchange for a reduction in the real property tax obligations on the veteran’s tax bills, in addition to any exemption or abatement to which that person is otherwise entitled. The exemption would not exceed $1,000, and not to exceed the state’s current minimum wage.
In addition, selectmen are looking for the town to adjust the exemption for veterans by allowing an approved representative for persons physically unable to provide such town services and the maximum reduction of the real property tax bill to be based on 125 volunteer service hours in a given year, rather than $1,000.
•Voters are being asked to allow the town to transfer $50,000 from free cash for the Joshua Hyde Library children’s room renovation projects. The library trustees plan an $89,000 renovation to the children’s room. If passed, this article would contribute up to $50,000 in matching funds from the town.
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