To the Editor:
We have a lot of rights as citizens of the United States and as property owners in the town of Marion. Let’s paint a fictionalized picture: I’m overlooking the pool from my deck where my two children, their four friends, and our dogs are playing in a joyful (read: loud) manner, enjoying a swim to cool off after playing on our tennis court. There are big ruts in my front lawn from the trailer truck that just came on yesterday’s rainy day to pick-up my 40-foot sailboat from the side yard. The boat’s scheduled pick-up finally forced me to take apart the illuminated Santa’s sleigh in the front yard that the kids love so much. The boat, when shrink-wrapped, is about 18 feet high and takes up about 320 square feet and sits right on our property line.
My brother-in-law is at the table saw in our large garage/shop building his wife a desk for her birthday while enjoying a six-pack of Sam Adams. We’re excited about the arrival of summer and “Back in Black” by AC/DC is pumping through our outside speakers. Life is good.
I only wish my neighbors had more time to chat when I go out for my newspaper each morning.
Back to reality: The way we work as a town, state, and nation is that we have a lot of individual rights, even while that might be slightly uncomfortable at times for our neighbors. That’s why we invented block party barbecues, borrowed cups of sugar, and jumper cables to keep the peace. Unfortunately, despite the wide latitude we have on our property for swimming pools, boats, tennis courts, and garages, the Marion Planning Board appears uncomfortable allowing similar rights for modestly sized, noiseless, and properly screened solar panels.
For example, if I had at least an acre of land and wanted to install some solar panels and posts to hold them up that would cover only 1.5% of the lot size, set them back 35 feet from property lines, and screen it all entirely from my neighbors, the Planning Board would prefer that I still get a special permit to do so. Why? I love the adage, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Could it be that the Planning Board’s hammer is a Special Permit requirement? The reason given by one member, and I applaud his candor, is to retain “the ability to say no.” I do trust that his “the ability to say no” is well intended and for the town’s welfare as he sees it, however, that power is unnecessary for something as benign as solar panels.
Therefore, the answer to whether you can do anything with solar panels on your property, with the exception of putting them on your roof, is “maybe.” When asked what the possible objections to solar panels might be, it was stated that neighbors might object to the sight of the solar panels even while they would have to be entirely screened. There was also a suggestion that these solar panels might lessen the property values of a neighbor’s home. How so? What makes solar panels different than pools, large garages, and tennis courts? We should give solar panels at least equal rights among these structures.
Marion is currently ranked No. 104 among 351 municipalities in Massachusetts in solar capacity per capita. Not terrible, but just my opinion that we should lead in renewable energy rather than follow. The sun’s energy is clean and financially competitive given the incentives. Massachusetts State Law permits solar installations in all zones and limits a town’s ability to regulate them. Marion’s Energy Committee, made up of some of our most admired citizens, has worked hard to come up with reasonable guidelines, in the form of bylaws, which will accommodate both the state law and the character of the town. The simple idea is – if you want to install solar panels, you may do so, by right, if you follow the common sense guidelines without further review from the town. You wouldn’t have to expend the time, energy, and maybe money for drawings and all that jazz that becomes part of a special permit process. Even the preparation for a one-night public meeting is a hassle given the very busy lives that people lead. In short, the special permit is an unnecessary friction that will slow the use of solar panels among our fellow citizens.
I enjoyed my rare visit to a committee meeting. The Board’s members are volunteers and our neighbors; they put in long hours hashing out issues with the nothing but good intentions and their sense of the well-being of the town. They were informed and engaged and the discourse was always civil. There was even some good, appropriate humor coming from the Board despite the disagreements. Despite my appreciation for their professional and studied approach, my preference, in the case of solar, would be for the Board to do what they have done so well in so many other areas: establish clear goals, policies and procedures that protect the town but also give property owners the knowledge, up front, to understand what we can or cannot do on our property. That’s what good planning is all about! I ask you to please attend the Town Meeting beginning May 13 and vote for the Solar Bylaw as recommended by the Energy Management Committee.
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