Second solar proposal in Onota Lake neighborhood draws criticism

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PITTSFIELD >> A second large-scale solar power facility proposed on Churchill Street has generated some neighborhood opposition similar to the first project, which was approved by the city but is being appealed in Massachusetts Land Court.

Raymond Jones was among residents of the area who raised concerns about the project, voicing the most strenuous objections. The largely wooded area located near Onota Lake is a natural resource for the city, he said, but that would be disrupted by a commercial solar project.

"Fourteen families will be affected here," Jones said during a Community Development Board meeting, adding, "This is not right."

The board on Tuesday approved a site plan for the 2.25 megawatt solar project — proposed on four lots owned by Phillip Massary and Central Berkshire Land Development LLC, and a fifth lot owned by Michael Bianco Landscaping. The parcels are located east of Churchill Street near the Lanesborough line.

The landowners have an agreement with Heliovaas of Springfield to erect a solar array to produce electric power, to be fed into the Eversource power grid. The new owner of the property would be Churchill Solar LLC.

The board, however, is not the permitting authority for a solar plan, and the developers also will require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which next meets on Aug. 10.

The plan calls for solar panel arrays on the five lots, each with a capacity to produce 449 kilowatts of power — or about 2.25 megawatts in total. The facility would be considered a quasi-public utility under city zoning. An 8-foot fence is proposed around the ground-mounted solar panels.

Heliovaas is a renewable energy project developer with projects in several states.

Other speakers during the meeting questioned the site plan provisions for natural screening, particularly over the type of evergreen screening to be used along the north side of the parcels.

Brent White, of White Engineering, representing the developers, said they are willing to continue to work with city officials and the neighbors to improve the screening — especially concerning the size of the plantings used — and other aspects of the proposal.

In voting unanimously to approve the site plan and send it to the ZBA, the board recommended that, if a special permit is granted, conditions be added as to the screening provisions.

The five large lots at 1282-88 Churchill St. and 1110 Churchill St. are part of a 40-acre parcel that once was considered for as part of a multi-lot subdivision. That plan was rejected in 2006 by the Community Development Board after expressions of concern from neighbors and others over the potential impact on the aquifer beneath the area.

However, in 2007, Central Berkshire Land Development created eight large lots with sufficient frontage on Churchill Street to not require subdivision approvals. Some of those lots have been sold as home sites.

Another solar facility, which would generate 1.82 megawatts of power, is planned for a 61-acre parcel off Churchill Street south of the Dan Casey causeway over Onota Lake. That plan received a special permit from the ZBA, but a group of area residents is challenging the permit in Land Court.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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