Boards Clash on Solar Bylaw

During a charged two-hour discussion on Monday night, the Marion Planning Board challenged the Energy Management Committee on an amendment in the Town Meeting Warrant formalizing solar installation guidelines and standards.

Planning Chair Jay Ryder and member Ted North expressed their skepticism about how the controversial Solar Bylaw proposal made its way onto the warrant in the first place, saying that the Planning Board was not properly notified in advance of a public hearing scheduled for April 16.

“Did the Energy Management Committee follow the proper procedures in submitting the bylaws?” Ryder asked, scolding the EMC for its lack of transparency.

“Our duty as members of this board to follow the law,” North followed up. “We have still not received notice from the Board of Selectmen. I question whether we can even have a public hearing at this point.”

EMC member and scientist Jennifer Francis was skeptical in response.

“All along, we’ve been working very openly,” she said. “No one has ever said we needed to do anything differently. I really don’t know what to say. What has changed? I felt like we were very close. We wouldn’t have put this much effort into the Town Meeting if we didn’t think we could do it.”
Ryder at one point called the procedural conflict a “fatal flaw.” Signaling uncertainty for the bylaw’s fate, he used the same phrase in bemoaning the lack of a special permit process for ground-mounted solar installations on residential lots, citing aesthetics and potential land devaluation. Both of these concerns were dismissed as alarmist speculation by EMC members in attendance, who wondered whether solar panels would be more unsightly than junk cars, lobster traps, boats, and RVs.

“Delay is the deadliest form of denial, and that’s what I feel like I’m listening to here,” member Norman Hills said. “There are no surprises or secrets here. We’re not trying to ramrod anything. We’re not talking about paving the town in solar panels. I don’t think we’re ever going to agree on everything.”

“My response to that, Norm,” Ryder shot back, “is we had a deal, and you didn’t stand by the deal. It’s the 11th hour , and you’re trying to put something forth for the Town Meeting that the Energy Management Committee and Planning Board don’t agree on. I am a proponent of solar energy, but I don’t think we should have a bylaw just because we don’t have a bylaw.”

While North was stringent in his opposition to the Solar Bylaw, arguing that it be thrown out and replaced with one authored by the Planning Board, Ryder would ultimately soften his stance.

“We have to let this play out one way or the other,” Ryder said. “Let’s have the public meeting and see where we stand. We might hear recommendations that your side hasn’t come up with and recommendations that our side hasn’t come up with.”

The first public hearing of what could potentially be several on the issue will take place on April 16 at 5pm in the Marion Town Hall Conference Room. Should the bylaw survive intact on the Town Meeting Warrant, it will need a two-thirds majority on May 13 to pass. If it falls short, it cannot be reconsidered for two years.

“Implementing a fast track and encouraging public input: I think that would be the best thing to do,” member Stephen Gonsalves said. “Both sides’ noses are a little out of joint. There might be a lot of agreeing to disagree, and that’s the beautiful thing about America. We’re here now, so let’s move forward.”

By Shawn Badgley

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