The Townhouse Solar Project on Hanson Ridge Rd., which has been reviewed twice by the Site Plan Review Committee and the Planning Board, was given conditional approval by both bodies last week. The 4.95 MW solar array is being proposed by Cenergy, a nationwide developer of solar power projects, under the subsidiary name MSD Sanford LLC. See previous story for more information and background.
On October 6, the Planning Board had two separate items to consider: a zoning change required to build a solar facility on the property, and the site plan application, which has been updated since the Board’s previous review.
The property is currently in the Residential Development zone, in which solar facilities are not an allowable use. The debate centered around whether an overlay zone to allow solar would conflict with the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which was last amended in 2005 and makes no mention of solar power. Board member Tom Morgan strongly opposed the zoning change on the grounds that the Comprehensive Plan specifically favors residential development in areas like this one which are on the fringe of the built-up part of the City. Board member Crystal Tenney agreed with Mr. Morgan. The rest of the Board felt that the zoning change is appropriate and the vote was 4-2 in favor of recommending the change. Board member Jack McAdam, an abutter to the property in question, recused himself.
The Board’s major consideration on the site plan was objections by neighbors who felt the rural character of the area would be ruined by a view of a field of solar panels. The applicant revised the plan to add a larger buffer zone of trees and vegetation to block the view of the panels, which satisfied a majority of the Board members. The site plan application was given conditional approval by a 4-2 vote, with Mr. Morgan and Ms. Tenney voting in opposition.
The project still has one more hurdle before it can go forward. The proposed zoning change must now be approved by the City Council. Planning Director Beth Della Valle told the Zoning Subcommittee on October 12 that, of the eight Residential Development zones in the City, this property has the least potential to be used for that purpose, due to the abundance of ledge and wetlands on the property. Subcommittee members agreed to recommend the zoning change, and it will be on the agenda for the full Council’s vote at the October 19, 2021 meeting.
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