WESTBOROUGH, Mass. — Westborough residents Tuesday night approved a solar panel bylaw after more than an hour of debate and listening to concerns about the measure being too restrictive.
“Everyone on the board, and as a matter of fact everyone at our public hearings, is in favor of solar power,” Town Planner Jim Robbins said, imploring the town to vote in favor of the bill.
He noted a seven-acre project planned for Washington Street in which no site plan review was required. The developer agreed on his own to screen the front of the property.
“I was accused by a friend at the Farmers Market of being in favor of drought and famine,” said Selectman George Barrette about his support of the bill, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
The bylaw, available online, defines “large-scale” projects in terms of two capacities. Any project of over 250 kilowatts or 1,000 square feet must go through site plan review before it can be built.
Many in attendance took exception to the addition of the square-footage cap, which includes the area between the panels, calling it too restrictive. Brian Wilkinson showed a slide show showing how restrictive the cap is, noting that the array at his W. Main Street home (three panels of over 200 square feet) would be considered “large scale” and not allowed in a residential zone.
“This would be the most restrictive solar bylaw in the state of Massachusetts,” said Wilkinson, noting that pools, sheds and hot tubs are also considered “accessory use,” but not controlled nearly as closely.
“My concern is that in an effort to try to reach the industrial zones and the large photovoltaic systems there, we’re actually limiting the rights of homeowners.”
The Planning Board argued against Wilkinson, noting that they are receptive to drawing up amendments to make the bylaws as effective as possible. Planning Board Chairman Lester Hensley said the bylaws have been researched since May, and several towns throughout the state were looked at as models.
At a Sept. 18 Planning Board meeting, residents brought up concerns about setbacks, the square-foot limit and the possibility of a "special permit" for parcels of land over a certain acreage in residential zones. Under the current bylaws, large-scale projects are allowed only on industrially zoned properties.
The board amended the setbacks from conservation land to 25 feet, but they remain at 100 feet for properties abutting a residential zone. The permit was not enacted due to the large number of properties that would qualify.
"The board has spent a fair amount of time discussing this," Hensley said.
"The reason for going ahead with the bylaw right now is that the building commissioner needs it."