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Hatfield ZBA upholds building permit for solar project

The building permit, issued to Hatfield Solar LLC and Citizens Enterprises Corp., allows the companies to construct a 2.4-megawatt solar installation on 35 acres of land bordered by Chestnut, Prospect and Bridge streets.

Brian O’Connor, a spokesman for Citizens Enterprises Corp., said Thursday that the project could be operational by the end of the year.

“We look forward to building a project that preserves the environment, expands the tax base for the town and provides clean renewable energy,” O’Connor said.

The ZBA held two public meetings in January where they heard from several abutters, representatives of Hatfield Solar, the building inspector and town counsel William O’Neil.

Representing the abutters, attorney Michael Pill argued that, based on the Hatfield zoning bylaws, the solar project should not be permitted in a rural residential zone.

According to Pill, the bylaw prevents a large-scale “energy manufacturing project” in a residential area.

But Hatfield Solar attorney Diane Tillotson said the installation was not an “energy manufacturing” project but rather a solar collection facility.

Tillotson further claimed that the bylaw, which was written as part of the town’s bid to become a state-recognized Green Community, was specifically designed to encourage and assist projects like the one proposed.

O’Neil advised the ZBA that the building permit was issued based on a state law that says zoning cannot prohibit or unreasonably regulate solar installations unless it is to protect public well-being.

At Wednesday’s meeting, ZBA member Brian Nicholas said he believed Sadowski, the building inspector, understood and accurately interpreted the town’s bylaw when issuing the building permit.

The three-member board took 12 minutes to render its decision.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” ZBA member Francis Spellacy said Thursday. “We weighed all of the facts and we each came to our own conclusion. We were also very conscientious about following open meeting laws and everything was done in public meetings.”

Those opposed to the project have not yet said what action, if any, they will pursue.

“We haven’t had the opportunity to meet or talk with Mr. Pill,” said abutter Kathleen Zeamer of Bridge Street. “Right now I think we are just trying to regroup and see where to go from here.”

Zeamer said abutters support solar projects as long as they are built in a way that maintains the rural character of the town.

“I think both can be compatible,” Zeamer said. “We just need to have a very specific bylaw in place that will consider things like placement, setback and appropriate screening. That way we will be better prepared for the next time a large project like this is proposed.”

The Planning Board is working with the Energy Committee to see if such a bylaw can be crafted.

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