Churchill Street solar project challenged in land court

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PITTSFIELD — A city permit for a solar power generating facility planned for a lot off Churchill Street is being appealed in Massachusetts Land Court by a group of abutters.

Attorney Peter Puciloski, of Lazan Glover & Puciloski, of Great Barrington, said the appeal contends a special permit granted for the 1.82 megawatt solar facility by the city Zoning Board of Appeals violated zoning requirements and should be revoked.

The appeal was filed by Ralph and Louise Cianflone; Francis and Susan Curro; Alfred and Julia Gray, and John and Kathleen Tatro, all of whom own property across Churchill Street from the project site.

The city and the ZBA are represented by City Solicitor Richard Dohoney, and the project developer, Aegis Renewable Energy Inc., of Waitsfield, Vt., is represented by attorney Michael MacDonald, of Pittsfield.

Landowners Todd Driscoll and Aegis Renewable Energy had initially proposed a 2.6-megawatt solar array on about 10 acres of a 61-acre parcel on the east side of Churchill Street, south of the Dan Casey causeway over Onota Lake. After staunch opposition surfaced among residents in the area, that proposal was rejected for a special permit by the ZBA on a 3-2 vote.

The developer later submitted a revised plan from designer SK Design Group Inc., proposing a 1.82-megawatt solar array on just 5.7 acres of the 61-acre parcel.

The revised plan also included eight home lots along Churchill Street, facing the neighbors who had registered complaints about what they deemed negative visual and property-value impacts on the residentially zoned area. Other residents of the area spoke in favor of the project at the ZBA meeting.

The board voted 4-1 in June to approve the revised plan, despite continued opposition from the neighbors.

Board members noted the smaller project size, its location further back from neighbors across Churchill Street, and added natural vegetation, earth berm and fence screening of the array — along with the creation of eight home lots along the street facing the neighbors, producing a wider minimum setback of 300 feet from the street.

However, several residents continued to oppose the project, saying a commercial facility does not belong in a residential zone and that they had invested heavily in their properties over years believing only other home site were possible in that zone.

Ralph Cionflone, Judy Gray, Francis Curro and other residents said at the June ZBA meeting that they believe the smaller solar project would still be partially visible and would disrupt the residential character of the neighborhood.

Cianflone, an attorney, acknowledged that while such quasi-public utilities are permitted in a residential zone, they require a special permit and can be rejected to "protect the safety, health and welfare" of a neighborhood. He argued that the project should be rejected on those grounds.

The appeal to Land Court was filed on June 28. A scheduling hearing in the case is set for Aug. 18 before Judge Howard Speicher.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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