The Marion Energy Management Committee and Planning Board disputed the future of the solar panel farm project that was approved at the Spring Town Meeting. The discussion took place at the Board of Selectmen’s regular meeting on Tuesday, November 20.
Bill Saltonstall and Jennifer Francis went before the Selectmen to try and gauge their sentiments towards the project, which would construct a solar panel farm on top of the landfill, providing solar energy to homes in the area, reducing utility bills for the town. The solar panel farm is one of several steps the town would have to take in order to achieve green community status. So far, there are 103 communities in the state that have achieved green status.
“Massachusetts has a very progressive set of incentives,” Francis said. “That being said, Marion has contributed nothing to that status. We feel that at some point in time perhaps the community would want to become a green community.”
In order for the solar panel farm to be constructed, the Marion Energy Committee has proposed creating an 80-acre overlay district in order to implement by-right zoning for the project. With by-right zoning, the Committee could bypass the Planning Board when making plans for the project, removing the Planning Board’s ability to make any decisions in the process.
“It removes the vagueness of the site plan review process,” said Francis.
The Selectmen were generally in favor of the solar panel project.
“I believe we are in favor of doing the solar approach,” said Selectman Steve Cushing. “It’s a little more palatable than having a wind turbine.”
That being said, there was still a level of concern among the Board.
“80 acres is where I am concerned and for the restriction for the future,” said Selectman Jody Dickerson. “That area has been earmarked for potential projects and I have a serious concern with that.”
Furthermore, members of the Planning Board took the podium to talk about their concerns with the by-right zoning. They suggested the solar panel farm use special permitting instead. The special permitting would allow the Planning Board to go through their traditional regulations and research to learn more about the project.
“I think the Energy Committee should be commended greatly,” said Planning Board member Thomas Magauran. “But I think the consensus of the Planning Board is that we are not prepared for by-right zoning. I think there’s a time in the future this may be possible, but it’s not today. We are not saying no, we are just saying that we do not have enough information.”
Energy Committee member Norm Hills said that while Marion doesn’t have all the answers to building a solar panel farm on top of a landfill, there are 23 communities who have done so without issue.
Instead of constructing the solar panel farm on the landfill, Magauran suggested constructing it on a plot of private land on County Road.
As an alternative to the landfill scenario, Francis said the Committee could possibly reduce the area of the 80-acre overlay district to a smaller plot of land.
With all of the recommendations in mind, Dickerson said it should be the townspeople who decide the fate of the solar panel farm. There will be two articles on the warrant for the Spring Town Meeting in 2013. In the meantime, the Planning Board and Energy Management Committee will work together to further research the options for this project.
“We should continue to work together to make the right decision,” said Magauran.
In other news, Town Administrator Paul Dawson presented two contract proposals for both the Marion History Museum and the Marion Music Hall lighting projects. A bid for $34,700 from a company in Canton was approved for the History Museum repairs and a $77,700 bid from a company in Weymouth was approved for the lighting project outside the Music Hall. The Music Hall project will be funded by their endowment fund.
Dawson also announced that the town will be awarded $1 million to put towards road repairs. The award comes from the MassWorks Infrastructure Funding Program, a statewide initiative to assist towns to pay for their road repairs.
“This is a really exciting award,” said Dawson.
The Marion Board of Selectmen will meeting again on Tuesday, December 4 at 7:00 pm in the Marion Town House.
By Katy Fitzpatrick