Richmond moving to spur more solar development

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RICHMOND — A zoning bylaw revision proposed by the Planning Board aims to encourage more solar energy development in the town.

That would be achieved by allowing such projects by right on any dwelling or accessory building as long as zoning setbacks and height limits are met and by regulating the size of accessory ground-mounted solar projects.

"Since we are mostly zoned as residential and agricultural, expanded solar will have to occur in homeowners' backyards," said John Hanson, chairman of the Planning Board.

The bylaw applies to systems structurally mounted on the roof or the side of buildings such as barns, sheds, garages and workshops in the town's residential-agricultural, shore-residence and commercial zoning districts, as well as ground-mounted solar projects.

"We think the proposed bylaw treats structures such as ground-mounted solar projects in the same way as accessory buildings," Hanson said. "People should not be surprised by any construction project that might impact their neighborhood."

"Residents have long been comforted by zoning provisions requiring that they be notified if an extra-large accessory building is planned next door or in the neighborhood, so they can comment on the plan," he said.

Voters will have the final say on the proposals at the annual town meeting at 7:30 p.m. May 15 at Richmond Consolidated School. Residents with questions or seeking further details can attend the "baby town meeting" at 10 a.m. May 4 at Town Hall.

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The Planning Board is recommending that this "reasonable provision" also apply to accessory ground-mounted solar installations.

The proposed revision allows ground-based solar projects up to 750 square feet, and 15 feet or less in height. Larger projects would require special permits in the residential-agricultural and commercial districts, but would be banned from the shore-residence district at Richmond Pond.

Any solar project would need to meet the town's size, placement, design and construction regulations, minimize any impact or loss of scenic, natural, agricultural and historic resources as well as the character of residential neighborhoods, while protecting public health, safety and welfare.

The town's zoning bylaw proposal requires "reasonable efforts to minimize visual impact from public rights of way and abutting properties." Dense vegetation is the preferred method of screening, while clearing of natural vegetation must be minimized and any cleared areas must be re-vegetated, the bylaw states.

Also recommended are underground utility lines between a solar energy installation and the primary structure on the property.

The town defines solar energy systems as any device or structural design to collect, store and distribute solar energy for space heating or cooling, electricity generation or water heating. The definition includes photovoltaic systems up to 250-kilowatt capacity that convert solar energy directly into electricity.

Large-scale commercial solar projects exceeding 250 kilowatts continue to require a building permit and site plan review by the Planning Board and can only be built at the old landfill site off Cone Hill Road or north of the Richmond Consolidated School.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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