Townhouse Solar Project On Hold

The area in blue is the proposed overlay zone. The large parcel on the upper left, R8-67, is McDougal Orchards. The large parcel to the right, L24-11, is Gowen Park.

At its September 1 meeting, the Planning Board heard input on a proposal by MSD Sanford LLC, to construct a 4.95 MW solar array on land owned by Townhouse Properties between Hanson’s Ridge Rd. and Main St. Planning Director Beth Della Valle summarized the previous day’s review of the project by the Site Plan Review Committee. She said that although the SPRC meeting was not a public hearing, several members of the public were allowed to speak and voice concerns, which included impacts to wildlife and wetlands, glare from the solar panels, and negative impact on property values. The SPRC discussed the technical aspects of the project and tabled further discussion until its next meeting on September 14, giving the applicant time to resolve some issues.

The property is currently zoned Residential Development, but the natural features of the property make it unsuitable for that use. An overlay zone that allows solar development is being proposed. Because spot zoning (rezoning a single property within a zone) is not allowed, the proposed overlay zone will include not only the Townhouse property, but also abutting parcels owned by Megan McDougall and Julie Downing, and the Kiwanis Club of Sanford.

Since the SPRC had not yet recommended approval, a vote by the Planning Board on the actual project wasn’t scheduled. Instead, the Board was considering whether to amend the zoning ordinances to allow the project to be built. However, since the public hearing on the project had already been advertised, it was held.

Steve Barrett of Barrett Energy Resources outlined the project on behalf of the applicant. He said 15.32 acres of the 40 acre property will be disturbed, which is a substantial decrease from the original plans. The three solar arrays will be at a fixed tilt of 25 degrees, and be surrounded by a seven-foot chain link fence. He said vernal pools on the property will have a 250′ buffer, and the stream will have a 75′ buffer. Trees will be cleared for the arrays, and non-invasive, native meadow species will be planted in their place, and mowed once or twice a year. The power generated will be sold to local customers.

Several abutters and neighborhood residents weighed in on the project. Former Planning Board member Jace Clarke asked if the development was consistent with the Residential Development zone and the goals of Sanford’s Comprehensive Plan. He said it didn’t make sense to convert residential land to another use during a housing shortage. Hanson’s Ridge Road resident Mike Cook expressed his concern that clearing the land would expose neighbors to high winds, and said he does not want to look at “an industrial field of solar panels.” Brandon Ricker said impacts on wildlife should be taken in consideration in an area abundant with deer, fox and coyotes: “Deer don’t sleep in meadows, they sleep in the woods where there is cover.”

Donna Morrison brought up the question of storm water runoff, saying that grass will not absorb water at the same rate that trees do. Another resident said the installation would be visible from Main St. and create an eyesore. Maura Herlihy, the property owner, responded that there would be plenty of wooded area remaining on the Main St. side of the property.

Planning Board member Tom Morgan said he agreed with Mr. Clarke that solar development is not a consistent use in the Residential Development zone. He said the fact that the Comprehensive Plan doesn’t mention solar power doesn’t mean that it should be allowed. He said that he was not opposed to solar development, but that it didn’t belong on this property.

Planning Board Chair Lenny Horr responded that the Comprehensive Plan’s silence on solar power also doesn’t mean that it is not an appropriate use. “Solar was probably not thought of,” when the Plan was written, he said. Mr. Morgan countered that the Plan is explicit on housing.

Board members Dianne Connolly, Crystal Tenney, Oliver Jones and Joe Hanslip all weighed in that they would like more time to research the Comprehensive Plan and think about the zoning change before voting.

The Board voted 6-0 to suspend the public hearing and table the discussion on the zoning change until its next meeting on September 15. Jack McAdam, an abutter to the project, recused himself.

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