ADAMS -- The town Planning Board voted unanimously Monday against a proposal to build a 6,700-solar-panel installation at 217 East Road.
The board agreed that the installation of a 1.5 megawatt facility was not a "by-right" use, against advise from the town administration and town counsel.
A by-right use allows the planning board to regulate, but not prohibit land use for that purpose.
The company proposing to build the array, Apis Energy Group, is expected to appeal the planning board's decision.
The board was reminded shortly before voting by its administrative assistant that it "was not within the purview" of its authority to determine whether or not the use of the property was by-right, but it voted against the proposal by Apis Energy Group largely on that basis.
Town counsel Edmund St. John III could not attend the meeting.
Apis Energy Group is looking to build an 11-acre field of photovoltaic panels on part of a 40-acre property. It first applied for planning board approval in March.
The electricity generated by the panels would be fed into National Grid, but a program would allow the company to offer elements of the town a discount on electricity.
Seth Ginsberg, project manager for Apis Energy Group, said that by contracting with the town, Adams could save approximately $20,000 a year.
Board member Barbara Ziemba argued that the solar facility would be an industrial use, and not permitted in a residential zone.
The land on which Apis Energy Group hopes to build is considered a residential one and residential two zone.
Ziemba said that to be a by-right use, Apis Energy Group would have to be a public utility.
Adam Filson, an attorney for Apis Energy Group, said that the company does meet that definition.
The bylaw also states that the facility be "essential."
"You are not essential to National Grid," Ziemba said.
Ziemba, the most vocal opponent to the project on the planning board, also expressed concern about potential negative health impacts caused by electro-magnetic fields created by solar panels, which are proposed for 100 feet behind the row of homes on East Road.
Apis Energy Group said that the affects are negligible. Outside a distance of 10 meters, Ginsberg said, the electro-magnetic field is gone.
Members of the public argued that the intention of the town bylaw in question was to make installing solar panels on rooftops a by-right use, not solar arrays such as the one proposed by Apis Energy Group.
Apis Energy Group representatives said that there were no studies to conclusively say whether solar installations harm neighboring property values, but many residents disagreed.
Ginsberg noted that a property abutting the potential project site recently sold for more than its assessed value.
Andrew Hochberg, an Pittsfield-based attorney representing the abutting property owners opposed to the project, said "this is not the appropriate place" for a solar field.
"I bought the property, I should be able to use it the way I want to," said Jeffrey Loholdt, owner of the 217 East Road Property.
Board member Michael O'Brien suggested that the town revisit its bylaws.
"These were written prior to the development of solar panels," O'Brien said.
Board Chair David Rhinemiller said that he had been "fairly neutral" throughout the process. But he said "I don't think it is [a by-right use]" and voted against the proposal.
"I feel as though someone else should fight this," Rhinemiller said.
Following the meeting, Filson said that there is a "clear path" of appeals for Apis Energy Group to take.
The company would likely next appeal the planning board's decision to the zoning board of appeals.
That decision could then be appealed to the state's Land Court.
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