After a complex hearing, Blue Wave LLC – whose large solar farm project proposed for Tinkham Hill Road brought out approximately 60 vested residents – was approved by the Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals for a commercial special permit. The hearing was one of two that contributed to a sprawling four-hour meeting.
Richard Charon of Charon Engineering presented the project to the board, explaining in rich detail the scope of the project, how it will be placed on the 65-acre site, storm-water management, replacement of woodlands with pasture vegetation, and long-term maintenance. Once he had completed his presentation, Charon launched into why the board had to approve the project.
Massachusetts General Law 40A, which was enacted several years ago, allows municipalities latitude to grant a special permit for alternative energy generation in residential locations. Charon went so far as to state, “You have the authority to approve such projects … you can not prohibit these types of projects.”
Chair Mary Ann Brogan asked Building Department Director Andrew Bobola, “Is that true Andy?”
Bobola responded, “Yes, this is true.”
What ensued was another one and a half hours of question and answers first from the board and then from the residents, who had packed the conference room to air their concerns.
Frances Cairns of Acorn Lane, whose residence is downstream from Tinkham Hill Road expressed concern that by changing the vegetation on such a large area, the development would increase the flooding issues she experiences. She asked the board to request a bond from the landowner, Dennis Mahoney and Sons, to help offset future expenses from damages that might result as unintended consequence from the site deforestation.
Patricia Harding of North Street questioned the general law 40A, section 9, and how such laws could allow a project of this type in a residential area. Bobola said that the town has not put any other bylaws in place that would place restrictions on construction like this and therefore, the general law being used by the applicant (7.2.2) would apply.
Clifton Lopes, whose property sits on the corner of North Street and Tinkham Hill Road, learned that NStar would make the final determination on whether additional utility poles would be required in front of his home to carry electrical cables from the solar inverters to the power grid tie-in.
Robert Allen of Jackie Lane asked if property values would be negatively impacted by having a power generation plant in close proximity to residential neighborhoods. Charon replied that there wasn’t any statistical data that would shed light on an answer.
Sylvia Ouimet of North Street, whose backyard abuts the proposed site, said, “I’ve lived there for 48 years … I’m concerned about a large industrial facility in my back yard.”
Shady Oak resident Diane Ortega asked if the transformers and inverters associated with the 12,000 solar panels could be moved to the east side of the site versus the west side thereby putting them further away from homes and closer to the planned smaller solar farm at the landfill site. Robert Erb of Solar Designs, which has partnered with Blue Wave in this enterprise, said it was “technically possible.”
Many residents voiced concerns over such construction phase hardships as noise, dust, heavy truck traffic, and safety. Each concern was countered by either Charon or one of Blue Wave’s staff members to the satisfaction of the board.
Due to the length of the hearing, the board suspended deliberations until the end of the evening in order to move along other business. In the end, the board did unanimously approve the project with conditions: Bond must be put in place and it must be sufficient to pay for full decommissioning of the equipment, site rehabilitation, and ongoing repairs to the site and plantings; long-term representative contact information for the town and the residents for any future dialogue needs; tree screening for the full length of North Street for the integrity of the scenic by-way status; police details during construction phase; construction start after Labor Day; relocation of inverters and transformers from west side to east side of site plan.
After a short recess, the next difficult hearing began. Applicant Monika Shuler was represented by attorney Richard Manning regarding property at 109 Marion Rd., site of the former Springmeadow Farms. He told the board that Shuler has experienced substantial financial hardship due to her failed agricultural activities on the site, and that the parcel has limited saleable benefits due to extensive wetlands and soils that cannot meet percolation guidelines. Shuler had attempted to build a bog on the high side of the property only to have that venture fail. In her effort to recoup some of those financial losses, she embarked in a creative solution to help sell the property. The solution is a two-prong plan. First a marine business at the back of the site and secondly a residence and farming venture facing Marion Road.
Shuler was seeking a variance to allow prospective buyer Saltwater Marine LLC to use the property for commercial boat work activities. Those activities were described by Manning and Saltwater’s Daniel Crete as environmentally sound boat maintenance, cleaning, and storage. Saltwater’s cutting-edge equipment and the construction of concrete pads designed to capture and contain wastewater and chemicals from the marine services were explained by Crete.
Manning urged the board to consider Shuler’s desire that the property fit into Mattapoisett’s Master Plan for economic development, interest in keeping agricultural activities robust at this location, and her extreme financial hardships.
After the board’s questions were satisfied, which included whether it was appropriate for Shuler’s application to be heard by the zoning board versus the planning board, public comments were entertained.
Those in favor of the variance request were Michael King and John Mathieu. Both believed the project as proposed was an excellent use of the land and provided business growth opportunity along with aesthetics associated with agricultural plantings.
This was countered by the residents and abutters who felt that a commercial marine business in the heart of a residentially zoned area was ill conceived. The board had received six letters from residents opposed to the zoning change citing concerns from residential property devaluation to traffic safety issues on Marion Road. Two homeowners were especially vocal in their pleadings against the variance request.
Beth and Carl Andrews, whose home abuts the Shuler property, stated that Shuler had created her own financial problems by not accepting the reality that the bog was not in a viable location. Beth Andrews stated, “Monika was told the bog was not going to work.” She further stated, “Monika bought the property knowing it wouldn’t perk!” The Andrews shared that Shuler’s activities on the site, including the removal of trees, had caused storm water runoff into their cellar and further changes to the site would only exacerbate those problems.
Peter Brickley, also a resident in close proximity to the 109 Marion Rd., said, “it is quite disturbing to learn that the property could be re-zoned to something other than residential … we will be impacted because the boat yard will be right in my front yard. There is no way to hide this operation.”
The board voted 4 to 1 in denying the applicant’s request.
Other hearings that were more quickly acted upon were:
Applicant Robert Carson of 18 Silver Shell Ave. requested a special permit to enclose an existing porch and create a balcony without changing the footprint of the residence. This was accepted as planned.
Applicant Stevan Gold, for an in-ground swimming pool at 8 Bay View Ave., was also approved.
By Marilou Newell