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ZBA to consider solar project, bias suit Monday

With the fate of a proposed large-scale solar installation on Chestnut Street still hanging in the balance, Hatfield’s Zoning Board of Appeals will convene once again on Monday, to consider whether the project may proceed as planned.

The controversy began in October when neighbors heard that Hatfield Solar LLC, a development company owned by the Boston-based Citizens Enterprise Corporation, had been issued a building permit for an 8,276-panel solar installation at 45 Chestnut St.

Abutters to the property are challenging the town’s decision to issue that permit on the grounds that an installation of this size does not belong in a residential area and should instead be located in an industrial zone. Michael Pill, attorney for the abutters, maintains that the town’s bylaw prevents an “energy-manufacturing plant” from being situated in a residential area.

Building Inspector Stanley Sadowski, however, says that the building permit is valid and that based on state law, no zoning ordinance or bylaw can prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems, unless it is to protect the public’s health, safety or welfare.

Attorney Diane Tillotson of the Boston firm Hemenway & Barnes, which is representing Hatfield Solar LLC and Citizens Enterprises Corp., agrees that the town’s bylaw does not apply to the solar project.

To date, the ZBA has continued two public meetings addressing the issue in order to gather additional information before making their decision.

Now, Pill has filed an Open Meeting Law complaint against the ZBA for the way it handled a bias issue that he raised at a ZBA meeting on Jan. 9. Pill has claimed that a conflict of interest exists because the home of ZBA chairman Michael F. Paszek was sold at a foreclosure auction to Christopher Smith, a member of the town’s Energy Committee and an advocate of the project. At the zoning board’s Jan. 9 meeting, Paszek said that he considers the foreclosure on his home a private matter and declined to discuss it.

According to Pill, the ZBA ruled while in a closed meeting, that the complaint had no merit. Pill said he filed the complaint because the discussion that contributed to the decision should have been open to the public.

The ZBA will reconvene on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Smith Academy library, where it will address both the allegations of bias and the future of the proposed solar project.

— FRAN RYAN

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