PITTSFIELD — Cypress Creek Renewables set aside a 57-acre plot along Barker Road about a month before city officials banned solar developments in residential neighborhoods.
The resulting plans for a 4-megawatt solar facility, which the developer says began a year before the city's ban, sent a ripple through the Barker Road community when they made landfall this spring.
Developers say the array would power more than 600 homes and offset 3,200 tons of carbon dioxide each year, but neighbors say the company will destroy a beautiful wooded greenway in the process. They also fear what impacts the development's proximity would have on Velma Avenue and on surrounding streets.
That's a concern that city officials share, which is why they banned such developments in March. Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer said at the time that a solar project next door is like "putting a manufacturing facility in the middle of a neighborhood."
The project needs clearance from the Conservation Commission, the Community Development Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals before it can proceed.
The solar project would span across 28 acres, said Daniel Band, project developer for Cypress Creek Renewables, which is pursuing the project under the corporate name Guild Solar. He said the company plans to buy the 57-acre property, currently owned by a private trust.
The existing owner is Saw Mill School Nominee Realty Trust, according to the company's application with the city.
Cindy Cicchetti, of Velma Avenue, said she worries that the company will decide to blast in order to clear the property and that it will cause damage to the neighborhood.
Another Velma Avenue resident, Gail Broderick, said the developer would need to destroy 30 acres of woods that wrap around her neighborhood. The facility would bump against more than a dozen households, she said.
"It's just the wrong thing to do," she said.
Beth Wallace said she worries about the proximity of the project to her Velma Avenue home.
"It's privacy," she said. "And the noise and the construction that's going to happen."
And there are better places to put a solar field, she said.
"There are so many brownfields and vacant buildings where this could go," she said.
The neighbors worried aloud in the hallway of City Hall on Tuesday about the wildlife that calls the woods home.
"It's all about this," Cicchetti said as she rubbed her fingers together in the universal sign for money.
Councilor at Large Pete White said he stands with residents.
"If there's a vote that we can take, I know I would support you guys on it," he told the crowd of neighbors.
Carol Goodman-Kaufman, one of the existing property owners at the project site, told members of the Community Development Board that the project would be a boon for the city and the planet.
"I see it as a win-win-win-win-win," she said.
Band said the project would fall under the state's SMART program, which means power produced at the facility would fuel the larger Eversource grid. Residents in the vicinity could sign onto the program for a reduction in their utility bill, he said.
He said the city also would benefit from an annual payment in lieu of taxes agreement.
Band said he understands the neighbors' concerns and is working to address them. He has met with them several times, he said, and because of these meetings, he decided to move the project 200 feet from neighboring plotlines, install a larger evergreen buffer and make the fence more attractive.
"It's also really important to work with the neighbors, to make sure that, ultimately, we are providing a benefit to them," he said. "We're going to continue working with the neighbors."
Band said the company applied for a plotline adjustment in February, which freezes the parcel under city zoning at the time of the application. At that time, the new zoning amendment banning solar developments in residential neighborhoods had not yet been passed.
A lot goes into choosing a property for a solar project, he said, citing the need for a willing landowner, a large enough property and access to utility infrastructure. It's also important to find a property on which developers can work around wetland restrictions, he said.
"With this property, for the most part, we can steer clear of the wetlands," he said.
It's not easy to find commercial property that falls within that criteria, he said.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will consider the solar proposal June 19. Neighbors are rallying against the project via a Facebook page called "Protect the Velma Woods," which had 129 members as of Friday afternoon.
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.