St. Mark’s agrees to demonstrate solar array height for Planning and neighbors

by beth on March 8, 2016

Last night, St. Mark’s School agreed to help neighbors verify the visibility of a planned 2 acre solar array.

A school official informed the Planning Board that St. Mark’s is trying to be a good neighbor. It’s a challenge for the administration, since the project pushed for by Trustees has elicited criticism from residents of Sears Road.

Developing a large scale solar array is in keeping with their sustainability mission and the school’s image, connects with their curriculum and will lower utility costs. But some Sears Road residents are worried about changes to local scenery (especially their views and property values).

According to the Zoning Board of Appeals, the objections weren’t enough to trump state law giving the school the right to build a commercial sized array in any zone. However, the Planning Board does have say over some project details. At last night’s public hearing, some neighbors turned up to ask questions and express concerns.

Bob Meyer, Director of Finance and Business Operations, reiterated that the school is listening to neighbors. He pointed out that after residents objected to the school’s original plans for a 4 acre, 1 megawatt solar array along Sears Road, they went back to the drawing board.

Meyer said the school chose the easternmost spot they could use on their West campus. They also scaled down the project by half to a .5 MW array. Though, he later clarified that shrinkage was largely due to changes in state regulations.

The project relocation north of an athletic field would make it less visible to some neighbors. But some still have concerns, given the 10 foot height of the panels and the incline of the field up from Sears Road. 

The school previously conducted a visibility test with PVC piping and black balloons. Attorney Brian Falk told the board that from the cross country trail down the slope, the project wasn’t really visible. The test was done just for the schools, and neighbors weren’t given notice.

That didn’t reassure Dean Hickey of 25 Sears Road, whose site line is from a different direction. Hickey said that he checked out and marked the location for himself after the balloons were gone. He claimed it was visible from his property and would more so for closer neighbors. He urged the school to consider planting evergreen screening to minimize the impact.

Meyer agreed to conduct another marking. This time, it will be conducted on a Saturday with notification to the Planning Board and neighbors.

Chair Don Morris urged them to get it done in the next couple of weeks, before leaves start to grow.  The board also pushed back on the school’s plans to again use black balloons. They asked to make the project area visible, rather than attempting to replicate the appearance of panels.

[Note: I’ll let readers know when I hear that is taking place. If you learn sooner, feel free to post a comment below or email mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

As for screening, Meyer said the school would consider looking into it. But without knowing what it would look like, he couldn’t commit.

The public hearing was continued to March 21st.

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