SHIRLEY – Cautioning that the project they were about to tackle – drafting a renewable-energy bylaw to present at the fall Town Meeting – would be a “marathon, not a sprint,” Planning Board Chairman Bill Oelfke told the board and an attendant group of enthusiastic co-creators Wednesday that the work would take some time.
“We don’t have to get everything done tonight,” he said.
But over the next couple of hours, the group made significant headway.
It established how to start, with a template taken from similarly-aimed bylaws other towns had adopted. For example, the western Mass. community of Buckland, whose solar bylaw it decided to use as a model.
Planning Board member Janet Tice and Barbara Yocum, one of the de-facto subcommittee members at the table, handed out a synopsis of the Buckland bylaw they had prepared, along with a list of goals they hoped to achieve with the nascent new bylaw.
The purpose of the bylaw should be to set “reasonable regulations” for “large-scale, ground-mounted solar renewable energy systems” that would:
* Protect public health, safety and welfare;
* Minimize impacts on residential properties and neighborhoods;
* Protect natural resources, including wildlife corridors and
* Preserve scenic, historical and cultural resources.
During discussion, the to-do list grew by consensus, adding protection of drinking water and trees to the list of items the bylaw might address.
But the group also narrowed its focus so that, even though the title covers a broad range of renewable-energy sources, such as wind and hydro power, the spotlight would be on solar facilities for now.
Still, they felt that the generic title was more future-oriented and that it should be written with “placeholders” to allow other kinds of power-generation projects to be regulated later. And the bylaw can be amended as technology changes, they agreed.
“It’s not that we don’t like solar energy,” Raejean Price said. But the sites chosen so far for solar projects on town land have raised concerns, mainly due to clear cutting trees, which alters the environment. A wind farm could pose the same risk, she pointed out.
“What I’m hearing” is that we want to minimize habitat damage, loss of green vegetation to clear-cutting and visual blight via landscape buffers, mitigation measures and follow-up checks, board member Sarah Widing said. She agreed to work on a section of the bylaw addressing those issues.
In addition to limiting the size and scope of solar projects by various means, Oelke suggested pinpointing zoning areas where solar facilities could be built, “by right,” albeit with the required permits and with conditions, if necessary.
Someone suggested inserting guidelines to reflect the board’s project preferences rather than rely solely on regulations.
But board member William Lampros, who is a contractor, said it would be a useless exercise. Better to barter, he said. For example, if a developer wants a special permit or a variance to build a solar facility that is outside permit parameters or fails a regulatory test that can safely be waived, the deal must include a tradeoff. He compared it to a builder agreeing to value-added subdivision perks in return for a concession from the town.
Tice liked that strategy. “Our goal should not be to promote or prohibit but to reasonably regulate,” she said.
The board agreed to double its meeting schedule, meeting every week instead of every other week and to use one of those sessions solely to work on the bylaw.
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