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Not so bright: Rec center solar-panel carports criticized by neighbors

Solar-panelled carports under construction in the Postol Recreation Center's Mill Plain Road parking lot are not a bright idea, according to some neighbors.

A lawyer for a nearby restaurant claims the solar panels violate zoning regulations, while a neighborhood resident contends area residents were "bamboozled" by the town.

The solar panels above the two carports are expected to provide almost 100 percent of the electricity used by the town rec center, according to Assistant Public Works Director Ed Boman.

The solar panels, and their installation and maintenance, cost the town nothing, he said, but they enable the town to pay a lower rate per kilowatt hour for 20 years. The town pays 15.5 cents per kilowatt hour; the panels will mean the town will pay 8.8 cents per kilowatt hour.

Joel Green, a lawyer representing Cinch Gourmet Meal Market, in the Fairfield Sportsplex complex behind the recreation building and parking lot, sent a letter last Friday to the Town Plan and Zoning Department to "demand that you immediately undertake zoning enforcement action to enjoin the construction that has commenced" because the town did not obtain special-permit and special-exception approvals for the solar panels.

According to Green, the generation of electricity and any associated structures are not permitted in the zone, and even if they were, since no permits were obtained, "the structures may cause the town property to violate lot coverage and bulk standards."

Planning and Zoning Director Joseph Devonshuk said no permits were issued for the project because none are needed.

"They are accessory structures" for the recreation center, Devonshuk said. "We don't consider them separate uses."

Green's letter argues that while parking areas are permitted as an accessory use, the zoning regulations do not provide that solar panels also are a permitted use.

A certificate of zoning compliance for the project was filed May 22 of this year, Green said.

In a letter to the Fairfield Citizen, Elsie McKay said she and her neighbors feel "completely bamboozled by the construction of an unsightly solar panel canopy" in the Mill Plain Road parking lot.

She said the structures holding the panels are directly across the street from a residential neighborhood and in front of businesses at the Sportsplex whose signs are now obscured. It is also, she said, next to the St. Thomas Cemetery and on one of the "principal approaches" to downtown.

"There must certainly be other, better places to put solar panels, including roofs, that would not also necessitate the added expenditure necessary to construct the 20 or so steel poles there now," said McKay, a Ludlowe Road resident.

Boman said the roof at the recreation center would not support the panels because of their size, nor would it allow for the solar panels to be pitched at the proper angle. Read Full Article 

The project was approved last year by the Board of Selectmen and the Representative Town Meeting, but McKay said none of the residents or neighboring businesses were specifically notified of the proposal.

A story on the project, which appeared on the Fairfield Citizen website June 6, 2013, included a rendering of how the solar panels would appear in the parking lot.

McKay, too, said she believes it was a "procedural misstep" not to have a zoning hearing on the solar panel project.

"I'm just heartbroken that no one seems to have considered the negative aesthetic impact a large industrial looking solar field has at the Mill Plain Road location," McKay said. "I wish more thought had gone into this decision and I hope it's not too late to correct."

The parking lot sits between the recreation center and St. Thomas Cemetery, and directly across the street from Ludlowe Road and a former Fairprene parking lot now used for satellite parking for the downtown train station.

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