Solar array coming to Amherst near Cherry Hill course

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 9/7/2018 9:16:01 PM

AMHERST — A long-awaited project to bring a solar farm to land near Cherry Hill Golf Course can commence after the Selectboard opted against purchasing the properties.

The Selectboard Wednesday voted unanimously not to use its right of first refusal to purchase 33.8 acres from W.D. Cowls, Inc. The land has been in the state’s chapter 61 and chapter 61A programs, which allows property owners to pay reduced taxes on protected forested and agricultural land.

The need for the board’s action came after W.D. Cowls entered into a 20-year lease with Lodestar Energy of Avon, Conn., to use the properties, located off Montague and Pulpit Hill roads, for photovoltaic arrays. W.D. Cowls is not selling the properties, but the lease triggered the notice of the town’s right of first refusal to acquire the land.

David Berson, an attorney with Bacon Wilson, PC of Springfield, told the Selectboard that six parcels are part of the solar project. Once the land is removed from the protected status, the property owner has to pay rollback taxes. Berson said he will speak with Assessor David Burgess to determine how much needs to be paid.

Both the Planning Board and Conservation Commission previously recommended against acquiring the properties, which have walking trails on old logging roads, as well as a portion of the Robert Frost Trail.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said this marked the first time he could recall leased land causing a right of first refusal. The issue was also complicated by the land being in different state preservation programs and which sections of the land would be used for the solar project.

“We collectively got a little stuck on what land was staying in and what land was coming out,” Ziomek said.

Ziomek said solar project has gone through extensive review. The 5-megawatt project will use more than 15 acres and will cause a portion of the Robert Frost Trail to be rerouted around the array’s enclosed areas.

Meanwhile, the Selectboard also accepted a deed for 28.1 acres of the Epstein property off Bay Road in South Amherst. This will allow permanent public access to the existing Sweet Alice Conservation Area and state protected land near the Notch.

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