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Planning Board Being Forced to Reconsider Solar Array

August 6, 2018

By Mina Corpuz

mcorpuz@sentinel andenterprise.com

LUNENBURG -- Nearly a year after the town and two corporations sued each other over a denied special permit to build a solar array near Settlers Crossing golf course, the Planning Board is being forced by a judge to consider the corporations’ special permit and site plan.

A joint motion for remand was issued last Monday by the Land Court suit Settlers Solar LLC and 994 Northfield Road LLC filed against the town and five members of the Planning Board in December.

“Reconsideration is subject to a public process, so no decision on these applications have yet been made,” Town Counsel Adam Costa wrote in an email.

The parties decided to remand after unsuccessful mediation, he said.

Settlers Solar and 994 Northfield Road, which are affiliated with the solar provider Nexamp, both applied for a special permit last summer to build on 19 acres of forested land abutting the golf course on Northfield Road.

They were seeking a special permit because the area is not within the town’s solar overlay district.

In November, the board voted 4-1 to reject the permit and site plan approval. Members cited concerns that the array would have on the environment, scenic views, and abutter safety.

A few days after the decision, the corporations filed a notice of “constructive approval” for the permit saying the board failed to act within 90 days of when the original permit application was filed, according to court documents.

To appeal the notice, the town filed a lawsuit against the corporations in Worcester Superior Court on Dec. 6, which rebutted that claim. Constructive approval refers to a state provision that allows developers to proceed if a permitting authority doesn’t act within a certain period of time.

The town also argued that the provision doesn’t apply to the project under local zoning.

Settlers Solar and 994 Northfield Road sued the town in Land Court on Dec. 5, alleging it and the Planning Board members unlawfully denied their permits.

Attorneys for the developers claimed the denial was unlawful because it wasn’t related to health, safety, or welfare concerns.

Attorney Robert Bowen, who represents Settlers Solar, said Wednesday that his client is pleased that the board will reconsider the project.

If it moves forward, Settlers Solar plans to offer residents an opportunity to receive savings on their electric bills by subscribing to the project, he said.

Bowen said Settlers Solar also plans to have a PILOT program -- payment in lieu of taxes -- that would give the town a steady stream of revenue.

“They look forward to being a good neighbor,” he said.

Planning Board Chair Gregory Bittner was not available for comment.

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz.

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