SHIRLEY — The Planning Board on Wednesday night again continued a public hearing that’s been ongoing since January, when Prometheus Power Group, LLC, submitted an application for a proposed solar project off Great Road. The developer was represented at the hearing by its civil engineering firm, GPR.
Rockpile Realty Trust owns the steeply sloped, 10-acre site, which is sparsely wooded and stretches under an imposing over-story of power lines. The proposed solar array consists of 4,106 panels mounted on stands that hold 16 panels each. When completed, the array is expected to generate about a megawatt of power.
Topics the GPR engineer said he came prepared to talk about included a new drainage plan the Planning Board had received earlier that day, which addressed flood plain parameters, test pits and other site issues discussed at a previous session as well as questions and concerns the Conservation Commission asked the firm to resolve.
The original plan, updated in March was revised again, he said, and now incorporates changes in response to a recently completed site plan review conducted by Hamwey Engineering, Inc.
The Conservation Commission closed its hearing the night before but has not yet voted.
The project needs both boards’ approval to move forward.
The Planning Board, after GPR’s presentation and about an hour’s discussion and public input, decided not to decide yet either. Based in part on questions from the audience and their own as well as a lengthy checklist of standard conditions to be discussed in project-specific terms before voting, the board agreed to hold off until May 4.
In the meantime, Chairman Thomas Vachon asked the engineer to provide “images” of what the array is likely to look like, perched on the hill above Great Road as seen from North and West viewing points and the Walker Road intersection.
The visual issue was new, and the GPR engineer was clearly unsettled by it. During a brief back and forth with a Brown Road resident who asked if there was a plan to mitigate the visual impact of the facility on the landscape, he said there was no such plan.
“But you’d see it anyway,” he said. In his opinion, any attempt to camouflage the array, which will be fenced off for safety but not necessarily screened in, wouldn’t work and besides, some people might like the way it looks, he said.
The woman seemed incredulous. “This is a beautiful town,” she said, and if something — anything — can be done to shield the solar facility from view, it should be done.
At some point during the aesthetics discussion, Planning Board member Sarah Widing suggested asking the proponent for “mock up” views from the road.
Besides the pictures, the board also responded to public concerns about safety. Asked if an ambulance could get to a remote point on the site once its fenced in, the engineer conceded it might be a problem, although he wondered why it wasn’t brought up when the application was first submitted.
Vachon said the Fire and Police departments did not respond to the Planning Board’s query at that time but the board would reach out to them now to ask if there’s an issue with the access road and whether it should be extended to accommodate emergency vehicles. “We need to know if that’s a concern,” he said.