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Proposed bylaw amendment stipulates locations for solar farms


March 27, 2014
By Chris Maza

chrism@thereminder.com

WILBRAHAM – Among the proposed bylaw amendments for the Annual Town Meeting is new language regarding large-scale photovoltaic arrays.

John Pearsall, Planning Director, told Reminder Publications that with rising interest in the creation of so-called “solar farms” through which companies sell energy into the electrical grid, the Planning Board crafted a bylaw that defines what a large-scale array is and where one could be situated.

The new bylaw would not affect small installations for personal use.

“Right now we have zoning that covers small scale solar. There are allowed by right,” he said. “Now there is interest in in developing larger facilities and this bylaw was created to address those larger systems, most of which are ground mounted.”

Pearsall explained that under the proposed regulations, the renewable energy systems would be limited to large residential zones as well as commercial and industrial zones. Developers interested in constructing a large-scale array would have to receive a special permit from the Planning Board.

The bylaw also requires that the site for large-scale solar arrays should be no smaller than five acres with a minimum front yard setback of 75 feet and side yard setbacks of 50 feet and should be screened year-round “from all adjoining properties in residential use and public and private ways.” Installations should not be more than 15 feet tall.

At the end of the system’s life, the owner or operator is responsible for its removal, which must take place no later than 180 days after the facility’s operations are discontinued.

Residents will also be presented with a bylaw amendment for approval addressing zoning for potential medical marijuana facilities.

Pearsall said he didn’t expect Wilbraham to be “high on anyone’s list” as a site for a medical marijuana facility, but explained the addition of regulations to the zoning bylaws protected the town and gave it some recourse if an organization wished to open an establishment in an undesirable location.

According to the proposal, a medical marijuana dispensary would be allowed only in the industrial/professional office park district with a special permit.

Pearsall said there were multiple reasons for choosing the industrial district as the acceptable location for such an establishment, explaining that size was a major contributor.

“A cultivation facility tends to be a fairly large operation, which is more of an industrial use,” he said. “Most of the proposed sites for these seem to be repurposed mill buildings, so the industrial zone seemed most appropriate.”

He added that the industrial zone limits the potential for exposure to children.

“The other part of the decision to put them in the industrial zone was the separation from other land uses like schools or recreational areas,” he said.

These proposed bylaw changes, as well as two others regarding special event signage and neighborhood office zoning district regulations can be found at www.wilbraham-ma.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=148.

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