Residential outcry causes Pittsfield ZBA to delay vote, continue hearing next month on 25-acre solar proposal

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PITTSFIELD — The Zoning Board of Appeals continued a special permit hearing for a proposed 25-acre solar array at the Pontoosuc Lake Country Club to next month so the builders could better address the unanswered questions of residents. About 40 residents attended Wednesday night's hearing to, again, express their concerns about the large project.

"Due to the sophistication of this case, it will take us a few weeks to get to a conclusion," Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Albert Ingegni said early in the night.

Boston-based Nexamp proposes installing the 6.5-megawatt, 18,000-panel solar field across the property at Hancock Road and Ridge Avenue. Construction would take place over about six months, and trucks would enter the property on Hancock Road. After construction, about four to six vehicles a year would need access to the project for maintenance, engineers assigned to the project told the ZBA.

Residents met with Nexamp early in the month to share their concerns at a heated neighborhood meeting. Some spoke again on Tuesday at a site plan review in front of the Community Development Board. On Wednesday, Nexamp gave another presentation to the ZBA.

Joseph Fiori of Nexamp said Wednesday that about 400 small businesses and residents would be able to participate in the community solar project, which is expected to provide a 15 percent discount on their electric bills. Originally, he had told residents that about 1,000 residents would be eligible, but explained Wednesday that was a mistake in his math.

The proposed project would be among the largest solar arrays in the area, and more than twice the size of the largest existing array in Pittsfield. Currently, a 2.9-megawatt solar array at the old city landfill on Downing Industrial Parkway is the largest in the city, according to Permitting Coordinator Nate Joyner.

The company said they identified the golf course as an appropriate location because it had been previously developed and therefore wouldn't require massive tree removal.

However, about four acres of trees would still need to be removed, which concerns some residents who spoke Wednesday about the reported health benefits of trees to a neighborhood.

Neighbors have repeatedly said over the last few weeks that they don't take issue with solar projects, but feel a project of this size is not appropriate for the neighborhood and may be damaging to the Hancock Road and wildlife in the area.

Michelle Murphy of Wren Road said she didn't feel that Nexamp was interested in hearing from neighbors throughout the application process and that they weren't included in planning until after they expressed concerns at their first meeting with the town.

"The proposed solar array is wrong for the Hancock Road, Ridge Avenue neighborhood. We now face this massive intrusion of a power plant coming into a residential neighborhood," Jeffrey Bradway of Ridge Avenue said Wednesday. "Pittsfield does have industrial properties at its city center. The Berkshires are known nationwide for their natural beauty. Does it make sense to despoil its natural assets?"

John Fitzgerald proposed that the group meet with the community again in the coming weeks while the board has a site visit to better understand the layout of the property.

The hearing will reconvene on Nov. 28, and more residents will have the opportunity to speak.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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