Residents of the Bowman Road neighborhood were few in number, but strong in their objections to a proposed solar farm planned on property owned by NextGrid, LLC, a California-based alternative energy developer, for acreage located off Bowman Road in undeveloped pine forest.
Coming before the Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals on November 21 were Daniel Serber of NextGrid, LLC and engineer Richard Tabacyznski seeking a Special Permit and zoning use change for the purpose of constructing a 6-acre solar array.
The zoning district is currently designated as rural residential.
After a detailed presentation by Serber and Tabacyznski that included plans for protecting Bowman Road – an unpaved roadway – from heavy trucks, repairing the road as required, and using only two-axel vehicles in the construction zone, it was time to discuss stormwater drainage issues.
Voicing concerns that the site in question was in harm’s way of a 100-year level hurricane was Mattapoisett Land Trust President. Michael Huguenin. He asked for financial assurance to fund repairs should the project negatively impact a brook running through the property.
“We want to put financial assurance in place so the town would have rapid access to money,” said Huguenin, in the event the solar panels were damaged.
Serber assured all that NextGrid was willing to supply a surety or bond. Huguenin asserted that other solar farms in the community were not “in the middle of conservation lands.”
“Some [Mattapoisett Land Trust] members are for the project, and some are against,” said Huguenin, adding that the board of directors had discussed the possibility of building an observation deck on land trust property so that people could see the solar array, and as an educational tool for school-age children, calling it, “making lemonade out of lemons.”
Fellow land trust member Paul Osenkowski, however, was much more vehement in his assertion that the project did not belong on archeological and historical lands, saying, “I beseech you to stop this mania!”
ZBA Chairman Sue Akin said that housing could go on the property in question, and that such a project would require cutting down trees.
Osenkowski said he would rather have housing at that location than a solar farm.
Akin returned several times to the point that other solar farms in town had not created problems but, in fact, added to the town’s revenue.
“That doesn’t make it right,” Osenkowski said, indicating that profits generated from this project was money headed for California.
Debbie Freedman, of 3 Holly Woods Road, said that solar arrays were a form of “manufacturing” by turning sunlight into electricity. She thought that if this project were permitted, other forms of industry might be allowed in rural residential areas in the future.
On the topic of housing, Building Commissioner Andy Bobola said, “One thing that can happen is 40B (housing).” He said that if that came to pass, the town would not have any local control over the development.
Akin said that more housing meant more services that would impact the town’s budget.
Becky Zora talked about her home located next to the proposed site, the care she had taken to preserve it, and her concern that the solar farm, which would be visible from her home, would devalue her property. She also spoke of the wildlife in the forest. She said that while she believes in the reality of climate change, “Why would this town ever consider allowing a residential use to become commercial?” She continued, “Housing doesn’t scare me; you are opening this up to business.”
Brad Hathaway, who has lived in the area since 1948, said, “When you bring industry into a rural zone, that is a crime.” He also expressed concern over stormwater infiltrating the creek.
When it came time for the ZBA to cast its votes, it was clear that several members were not in favor of the petition.
“It doesn’t seem appropriate for the area,” ZBA member Tony Tranfaglia said.
Akin steadfastly held that this project wasn’t “any different” than the array located on Crystal Springs Road.
“I’m on the Finance Committee… I’m open to industry,” said ZBA member Colby Rottler. “I’m concerned about schools… but I don’t feel this is appropriate.”
ZBA member Norman Lyonnais said that the developer should have talked to the neighbors before buying the property.
Pacheco, Rottler, Tranfaglia, and Lyonnais voted to deny the Special Permit; Akin voted in favor.
The applicant has 20 days to appeal the decision in Superior Court.
Earlier in the evening, the ZBA granted a Special Permit to Keith McCown, 31 Pearl Street, for the construction of a 6-foot by 14-foot screened-in porch.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals will be held on January 16 at 6:00 pm if there are hearings scheduled. There is no meeting in December.
Mattapoisett Zoning Board of Appeals
By Marilou Newell