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Solar farm appeals Rowe permit veto

ROWE — Seaboard Solar LLC has filed an appeal against the town Planning Board’s denial of a special permit for a 6-megawatt solar farm on about 44 acres on Tunnel Road.

“The board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of its discretion,” says the appeal filed Tuesday in Franklin County Superior Court.

On Jan. 8, the Planning Board resumed its December public hearing, duplicating an earlier 2-2 tie vote on whether to support a special permit that would allow construction of the $15 million solar farm on 100 acres of private land.

The fifth Planning Board member, Robert Dykeman, recused himself from proceedings because he is to sell the property to Seaboard Solar for the project. Without the fifth voting member, a “super majority” vote of four in favor of the project was required for the special permit and earth-moving permit. The site plan review required at least three positive votes.

“In each case, the vote was 2-2,” Planning Board Chairman David Roberson said. “We filed our eight-page decision with the town clerk on Jan. 15, and the applicant has 20 days from that date to file an appeal.”

The appeal, filed by lawyer Mark Bobrowski of Concord, accuses Roberson and Planning Board member Robin Reed of “demonstrating hostility” toward the application. It claims that, during the public meeting, they discussed the issue with members of the general public and “attempted to communicate with other members of the board outside the public hearing to influence the vote.” The appeal goes on to say that Roberson and Reed, who both voted against the proposal, “violated the standard of free, impartial and independent decision-making” established in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

The appeal requests a “fast track” jury trial. The applicant is seeking a new public hearing, and that Roberson and Reed be prevented from participating “by virtue of their prior conduct .”

Other grounds for appealing were that the Planning Board didn’t show that denial of the special permit “was necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare,” as required under state law.

In the Planning Board’s special permit decision, the board said “the proposed use will have adverse effects which overbalance its beneficial effects on the town and does not reasonably fulfill the objectives of site plan approval.”

Among the criteria given for rejecting the permit was that the electricity-generating project would be “a major industrial use in a residential (zoned) neighborhood.” The statement says the applicant didn’t present any evidence that the solar farm would serve any specific community or regional needs. It also stated that the application did not address traffic control and safety, since traffic would likely increase during the construction phase, and that there’s no adequate water supply near the site, in case of a major fire at the facility.

Other concerns raised were the disruption of the neighborhood, during the clear-cutting of about 50 of the 100 acres for the project, the disruption of wildlife habitat, wetlands and drainage concerns.

Board member Douglas Wilson supported the project, saying that solar power “is the least objectionable energy source that we have. Compared to the nuclear energy which we had for 30 years, this seems benign to me,” he said during the December hearing. Jodi Brown, who also voted in favor, pointed out that the landowner has the right to cut down his forest land without any permits, if the solar farm weren’t built, and that at least three abutters approved of the project.

Robin Reed said she could support the solar farm if it were to be built on a brownfield, but not on forest and wildlife habitat. Roberson compared the amount of energy produced, the revenue and jobs brought to town by the former Yankee Atomic nuclear plant with the solar farm proposal and said the loss of forestland and habitat “seems like an awful lot to give up for what, in the scheme of things, is a relatively small amount of power.”

The proposal was to build a ground-mounted solar array of about 21,000 photovoltaic solar crystalline modules, along with inverters. The plan was for the solar panels to be set back 1,500 to 1,700 feet from the road.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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