Neighbors oppose residential solar project near Onota Lake

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PITTSFIELD — Property owners near a proposed solar power generation site off Churchill Street have expressed strong opposition to the 2.6-megawatt project before the Community Development Board.

The board eventually approved the site plan as presented Monday, but Chairwoman Sheila Irvin reminded the neighbors and the developer — Aegis Renewable Energy, of Waitsfield, Vt. — that the Zoning Board of Appeals has final authority over the required special permit for the project.

The ZBA will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall and has the project on its agenda.

"My first question is, 'why?' " said Ralph Cianflone, an abutting landowner.

Cianflone said he and other neighbors have lived in the area near the Dan Casey causeway on Onota Lake for many years and invested significantly in their homes, only to see what he described as "a monstrosity" proposed nearby.

"This doesn't belong in a residential spot," he said, adding that he would like to see the 61-acre parcel developed for more homes and suggested the developers look to former GE land in Pittsfield as more suitable for solar arrays.

John Tatro, who said he lives across from the proposed gravel access road to the site, said he is "very proud of our neighborhood" and a large commercial solar development "is totally out of [character] for the area. I don't see how this would benefit me," he said. "I see only negative things for the people of the community."

Frank Curro said his house sets up high and overlooks the entire project site. He said of proposed berm and green fence screening that would face his property, "It would be like the Green Monster."

Curro said he would expect "my values to drop" if the facility is built.

However, Robert Fournier, of SK Design Inc., representing landowner Todd Driscoll and Aegis Renewable Energy, said the solar panels are planned for only 10 acres of the 61-acre parcel Driscoll owns, which abuts the Blythewood horse farm and is land that was carved out of that property.

Natural and green fence screening would shield the solar panels from view, he said, especially after new vegetation grows in to also screen the seven-foot fencing that would initially be visible from one side of the parcel. Trees and vegetation would screen the other sides immediately, he said, including along Churchill Street.

Fournier said a 50-foot-wide natural screening barrier would be left along the street, and although some tall trees that might block sunlight from the panels would be cut, evergreens would be added in to fill in any gaps in the screening.

In the area where a berm and the fencing would provide the initial screening, Fournier said that would be 12 feet high. The entire array site also would be enclosed inside 7-foot high fencing.

Beneath the panels, he said, the land would be allowed to return to meadow. The project would feed power into the Eversource power grid through lines along Churchill Street.

The site is 1.2 miles from the Churchill Street-West Street intersection.

Driscoll said he believes it would be "shortsighted" to reject the solar project in light of climate change and the world's heavy reliance on fossil fuels. He added that, beyond the green power that would be generated, his intent is to conserve the remaining 51 acres of the parcel rather than develop it for homes, further benefitting the environment.

Driscoll said he also lives in the area and intends to ensure the solar project is fully screened from the view of neighbors.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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