STURBRIDGE – The special town meeting tonight turned out to be a bad night for non-municipal solar farms, and a good night for solar farm opponents, as a moratorium and zoning bylaw amendment both easily passed.
Town voters backed a moratorium on large-scale solar photovoltaic facilities and wind energy systems through Jan. 31, 2014. No building permit may be issued for the construction of any large-scale wind energy system or large-scale ground-mounted solar farm unless the facility is developed with the town’s direct involvement.
Also passed was a citizen petition asking for a zoning bylaw amendment on solar facilities.
“When we first met with our project manager, we were shocked to find out that Sturbridge had no bylaw,” said Lisa Meunier, who authored the citizen petition. “As residents, we are concerned about our health, safety and welfare. There are no long-term studies on these projects regarding health hazards.”
Under the zoning bylaw amendment, large- and small-scale solar facilities are prohibited in the suburban residential, rural residential, commercial, commercial tourist, historical commercial and commercial II districts, but are allowed in the general industrial, industrial park and special use districts.
Peter Grudzien chastised the citizen petition, saying there are a lot of isolated, unviewable wooded properties in town that are being restricted from solar farm development owing to the “tremendous” setbacks called for by the amendment.
Ground-mounted solar energy facilities have to 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 must 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.
“We’re putting it in industrial but, boy. Watch out,” Mr. Grudzien said. “That is a tremendous amount of property to tell somebody that they can’t use. It is so undefined, the setback.”
Before the vote on the citizen petition, Selectmen Thomas R. Creamer urged voters to favor this “stop-gap security measure”. As for the selectmen’s rationale to endorse the zoning bylaw amendment after voting in the solar farm moratorium, Mr. Creamer said there is a “slim chance” that the attorney general will reject it.
“One can never be 100 percent certain of what may or what may not happen in the course of the next two weeks, three months, four months,” Mr. Creamer said. “I fully recognize that there is a slight chance that this moratorium could be rejected and, if it is, then the current engineering controls that we have in place in the town of Sturbridge would not adequately protect your property if you abut an industrial or commercial zone.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding