Mattapoisett solar project won’t see light

Nov 22, 2019

MATTAPOISETT — Despite efforts to work with neighbors, representatives from Next Grid had a special permit application turned down by the Zoning Board of Appeals after abutters spoke against it on Nov. 21.

The California company proposed clearing four acres of land for solar panels and just under two acres of the 19 acres that they purchased off of Bowman Road for an access road and other structures. The result would have been a 1 megawatt array.

After a contentious discussion at the town’s conservation commission, the solar group worked with neighbors on their feedback, increasing distances between the panels and property lines, keeping thick vegetation as a barrier between abuttors and panels and making plans to avoid trucks on Bowman Road that would damage the gravel road.

Planning Board member Anthony Tranfaglia wanted to know how long Next Grid had been in business, and what happens when the panels outlive their usefulness.

The company’s representative, Daniel Serber, explained the panels were bonded to be removed and the site returned to natural conditions after a 25 year contract with a 5 year extension period.

Becky Zora has owned property next to Next Grid’s for some 40 years. She spoke passionately about many reasons to preserve it.

“The loss in property value will have an impact on my investment that I plan to take care of me as I age,” Zora said.

She believes that solar panels are useful and helpful, but questioned the location.

“I believe that we need to do everything that we can for climate change, but why would this town even consider taking this historic residential area and allow a commercial entity to come in?” Zora asked.

Mike Huguenin, president of the Mattapoisett Land Trust was concerned that a storm surge near the panels could undo much of the conservation work his group had painstakingly done.

“If a hurricane comes in and blows apart the solar plant, who cares, it’s private property. But if it fouls up the stormwater system” that’s bad, Huguenin said.

Huguenin said that among his group, “we had members who are for it and members that are against it. We try to be good neighbors, and their are some benefits of solar.”

Paul Osenkowski, also on the Board of Directors for the Mattapoisett Land Trust, was less favorable.

“It has no place in the area where they want to put it,” he said, adding that from an “archeological and historic standpoint this is a very important spot.”

Since Mattapoisett does not have a solar bylaw, Osenkowski addressed the board members, saying “you five people are our bylaw.”

Chair of the Zoning Board Susan Akin asked if Osenkowski would rather it be houses there if the project fell through. He responded that he would. 

Another neighbor, Debbie Freedman said that the neighborhood was a “rural residential area for a reason, so that businesses did not end up there.” She likened solar panels to a manufacturing facility and said if panels could be put there, “what’s to stop any business from going into this area?”

Building Inspector Andy Bobola said that if the board turned down this project, developers could end up making the site “a 40B in a heartbeat, where the town has no control.” He explained that multiple sites had been talked about for a development that would increase affordable housing availability.

Brad Hathaway, another neighbor, felt that the issue “should have been decided at the Conservation Commission and it wasn’t.”

When it was the board’s turn to comment again, Tranfaglia said that the project did not feel appropriate for Bowman Road.

“Residents of the town rely on the zoning of the area, and look to us to protect their interests,” he said.

“I don’t think Bowman Road can handle all that construction,” Kenneth Pacheco said.

Colby Rottler was moved by the long personal histories from neighbors. “They do live there, and they have all this history. I can’t vote for it,” he said. 

However, Akin maintained that the project was similar to several other solar projects in town. “I don’t know why this is any different than Crystal Springs Road,” she said.

The board made and accepted a motion to not grant the special permit by a vote of 4 to 1.