St. Mark’s School is “considering” installing a solar array off of Sears Road.
The administration frames the project as part of both its environmental responsibility and its educational mission. The array would feed into their STEM building construction project and be used in the curriculum.
The school has begun community outreach to those most effected by any changes to the landscape.
Last week, they issued a letter to abutters. It includes an invitation to a meeting for their “immediate neighbors”. At the July 30th meeting, they plan to share the current design and screening plan:
Our goal is to discuss the project fully and understand any concerns you might have.
A reader shared the letter with me. (You can scroll down to read that.)
I reached out to Town Planner Jennifer Burney about how the project fits with the Town’s Solar Bylaw passed last Spring.
Burney couldn’t comment in substance yet, since the school still needs to file for a permit with the Building Inspector. But she did tell me that under state law, the Town’s zoning constraint for projects over 250 kw doesn’t apply to schools:
There are exemptions under Mass General Law. In particular Chapter 40A Section 3 states that non-profits, educational uses, religious uses, agricultural uses cannot be restricted or regulated. That is not to say that they are not required to get a building permit. St Marks has always been good about coming in for Special Permits and Site Plan reviews. Until we know more about the project I can’t tell you what they will be required for review.
Here is the July 16th letter from St. Mark’s School:
Dear St. Mark’s neighbor,
We are writing to inform you that St. Mark’s school is considering the installation of a solar photovoltaic array on a portion of its property that abuts Sears Road. While this project is an important component of St. Mark’s educational objective to enhance our core curriculum in science, technology, engineering and math (“STEM”), we are aware that such a project, if not properly screened, may impact those who live immediately adjacent to the area.
An important tenet of St. Mark’s mission is our dedication to achieving environmental stewardship through innovative and creative strategies. While constructing a solar photovoltaic array is one important step towards achieving that goal, we are also committed to working in harmony with our neighbors and the community as a whole.
In addition to the integrated benefits that the solar photovoltaic array will provide to our new STEM building, currently under construction, we continue to evaluate the following:
- What can St. Mark’s do to responsibly reduce our carbon footprint?
- How does St. Mark’s responsibly use it lands and energy resources? The planning, design and creation of a solar photovoltaic array is an important part of the learning experience of St. Mark’s students now and in the future.
- How will the installation of a solar photovoltaic array impact the natural setting of the land near Sears Road, both aesthetically and environmentally?
Recently we engaged a nationally renowned firm (SolarCity) to assist St. Mark’s developing and constructing a world-class system that feeds near real-time information directly into our STEM Building. Solar city has completed its preliminary system design and prepared an initial layout with street level line of site renderings.
On Thursday, July 30, 2015 at 6:30 PM, we are hosting an informational session to familiarize our immediate neighbors with the current design and screening plan. Our goal is to discuss the project fully and understand any concerns you might have.
We truly our value our relationship with you and other Southborough residence, and welcome your participation at our informational meeting to be held at St. Mark’s (Center for Innovation Conference Room in main building.) In the interim, if you should have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Bob Meyer at 508-962-7960 or via email at email@example.com. ——We would also appreciate your RSVP if you plan to attend.
Robert D. Meyer, Director of Finance and Business Operations
I just never like the concept of clear cutting land to put down solar. I know the CO2 offset math makes it worth it, but there are other environment factors to consider, particularly for the wildlife living there.
IMO solar panels belong on roofs, surely St Marks can find some roof space for this.
Just take a look at these monstrous panels along the Mass Pike. Now we are going to have them in a lovely grassy field that people, animals and joggers enjoy. How can such an eyesore even be considered. How do you know Solar City isn’t another Solyndra. Someone is getting paid handsomely on this deal and the abutters are getting kicked in the butt. Put these black horrific panels on St. Marks property.
I think the panels on the pike are great! If the state has extra land along a highway that can’t be utilized for other reasons, why not take the chance to get some green energy?
I don’t know what the Solyndra comparison has to do with the discussion. And I’m not sure what your worry about “someone being paid handsomely” is… If St. Marks thinks it’s worth it to install solar panels, and Solar City agrees to install them, where’s the problem?
The panels on mass pike are great for the State! Most people pay no mind to these because a) we are traveling at 55mph+ and are on the side of a busy highway and b) they are amidst industrial/commercial buildings, service stations. In comparison, these solar panels will be in a PRARIE , behind beautiful homes. And no “buffer” will hide these ugly panels when someone looks out their second story window. And quite frankly I doubt any money will be set aside to invest in plants high enough to hide these panels from open view by those who use the trails. What an eyesore! And for those selfish enough to believe that they are not impacted because a) they don’t see it from their backyards or front windows, or b) they don’t live on Sears , please know, when these solar systems impact the prices/values of these homes on Sears Road or the other streets with views of the path, so will your homes (in Southville, etc) realtors use comparisons when setting a selling/buying price. If a home on Sears Rd or other streets with views of the path and hence the solar panels drops in price, so will yours!
If it’s the school’s land, they should be able to do what they want with it.
For those that don’t like looking at solar panels, would you rather have a power plant instead? Or is this a case of NIMBY? Solar panels are OK as long as they aren’t in my back yard. The increase in solar panels in New England is decreasing the need for power plants that produce electricity from fossil fuels.
Point exactly “as long as they are not in your backyard”. In this case, the residents on Sears Road will have the solar panels in THEIR BACKYARDS. And, no, power plants would not be an option either in a residential area!
Anonymous – I assume you’re a resident of the area? I personally wouldn’t have a problem with having solar panels in my backyard. I think they’re sort of elegant. Then again, I feel the same way about wind turbines.
At any rate, I’m sure you’ll be at the meeting so that you can have a voice in the process.
Quid pro quo this project: Yes to solar with a commitment from St Mark’s of PILOT contributions of $100K a year for 10 years. Not sure if this is legal but who wants this eyesore in our down town area.
Anyone have any idea as to who was appointed Assistant Treasurer/Collector at the Selectmen’s Meeting on Friday?
I got the answer today:
The Board of Selectmen recently appointed David Birri as the new Asst Treasurer-Collector. He will begin on August 10th. He fills the vacancy created by Karen Hamelin-Figueroa who took the position of Assistant Town Accountant late this Spring.
Note: Most of the delay was in my part in asking – not theirs on answering.
An educational institution with a tax-exempt status should consider carefully “give-back” to a community for that right. This proposal essentially amounts to an industrial installation in a residential neighborhood. Perhaps St. Marks might consider a row of “green” cell towers made to look like trees to block this unsightly possibility? More realistically, perhaps it should cut down a patch of trees deep inside its woods (closer to the school and its own backyard) so that residents can be fully isolated from it.
The real issue here is interpretation of the Dover Act…see following link:
Apparently, it has formed a basis for private education institutions attempting to circumvent local zoning laws in their communities under the guise of avoiding discrimination against them.
I am late to comment on this because I just found out about it. It is a terrible idea. As for the solar panels along the Pike that someone mentioned, they are an eyesore even at 65 MPH. They look like construction that will never be finished. I am all about Green energy, but not at the expense of the beautiful landscape. Why can’t St Marks put the panels on the roof?
I was unable to attend last night’s meeting because I wasn’t feeling well. I’d love to hear what was discussed from anyone who attended.
This is a terrible idea. As someone who uses the trails to walk and find peace, I am sad to hear that they may be on the way out. I have been a resident of Southborough for over 22 years and sometimes wonder why I live here. We have no real center and I have to drive everywhere for everything. But then I remember how beautiful and peaceful this semi rural community is. An oasis that is a short drive to Boston. Our small town feeling is a welcome relief to come home to. When we let development of the natural beauty of our town go forward we lose, bit by bit, the character of our what makes our community appealing. If we are not more thoughtful about these things we are in danger of losing the heart and soul of what makes us a special place to live. This is not just my backyard. It is everyone’s backyard. I think the panels could be put on the rooftops of St. Marks existing buildings.
Just so everyone understands solar city is extremely well run business and they’ve done probably 80% of the solar projects in Southborough, on rooftops and has hundreds of multi mega watt projects in Massachusetts and across the country. . I actually designed and proposed the project three years ago with the CFO at St. Mark’s and they’ll be no clearcutting there’s no trees there except for some old apple trees and some destructive climbing vines. I would feel bad for Sears Road residents but one resident is driving a project to put the huge lights across from my home on the ballfield at Finn. Tht is life. What would be great is if St. Mark’s offered to supply Southboro 500 kW of power a year and that would take care of all our power in our town for 20 years. The project I propose there was 2MW on eight acres.
Mr. Fuce, I think we all undersatand. I don’t have a problem paying for my share of electric. I use it, I pay it. I prefer an electric bill to getting the sale of my home slashed when I sell it, because of the monster eyesore solar panels on Sears. No thanks. Put the damn panels on St Marks rooves. They have plenty of buildings.
The administrators and teachers of St Mark’s would be performing a better service to their students if they would explain to them the facts on “Climate Change”, crony capitalism and how imposing government polices on energy take money out of the pockets of every American.
I think that’s part of what they are doing actually. The panels were planned to not just be an energy generating setup, but also were going to be used as an educational tool, so that students could learn about climate change, and science, energy, physics, etc. Seems like a pretty good idea to generate some clean power and help teach students at the same time!