By Anne O’Connor
SHIRLEY — Two town boards were right in allowing town-owned land on Patterson Road to be leased for a solar array, Massachusetts Land Court determined.
The land is not subject to Article 97 of the amendments to the state constitution, the court found. If the land was Article 97 land, a two-thirds majority of both state legislatures would have been required to change the use from conservation to something else.
The summary judgment was made at the request of both the plaintiffs, a group of town residents, and the defendants, members of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Solar City Corporation, which built the solar array.
The finding is dated Oct. 18.
The Planning Board issued a special permit allowing the development on Nov. 6, 2016. The Zoning Board of Appeals denied a petition to set aside the decision on Jan. 11, 2016.
Since then, the town leased part of the land in the watershed protection area to Solar City. It built a solar array with storage batteries that is up and running.
The 1988 deed for one of the two parcels said the land was to be used by the town for water resource protection or other compatible purposes. The court found that the land had more than one possible use and it is not apparent that other uses must be Article 97 uses.
The land and its use was the subject of two articles at the spring 2017 Town Meeting calling for the “care, custody, and control” of the lots to private industrial solar and to give the selectmen authority to lease the fields.
The articles were defeated, a move that petitioner Barbara Yocum said in May would require Solar City to remove their installation and restore the land.
At that point, the equipment was installed. It is now up and running.
The installation is projected to bring in $1.8 million in tax payments to the town over 20 years, according to former Energy Committee Chairman Bryan Dumont.
“I’m pleased with this decision,” he wrote in an email. “We protected town assets better than most other entities.”
Three hydro-geologist reports and multiple engineering studies were done before the development, he said. The project was approved by both the state Department of Environmental Protection and its Drinking Water Division. Both said there would be no adverse impact to the water.
People felt the project moved too quickly, said Selectman Holly Haase, chairwoman. They worried about the water supply and the removal of nearby trees.
As a selectman, she understands where both the residents who oppose the installation and town counsel, who issued an opinion that the land use is legal, comes from, she said.
The Renewable Energy Systems zoning bylaw that passed by a two-thirds majority at the fall 2016 Town Meeting, was a result of residents’ concerns with the speed of approval, she said.
Among other things, the bylaw that the state attorney general’s office approved limits the size of ground-mounted solar installations to five acres.
The solar array on Patterson Road is on two parcels totaling over 27 acres, according to articles presented at the Annual Town Meeting in May.
It will be turned over to National Grid as one of their allowed solar developments, Dumont wrote.
Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.