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Proposed Solar Farm Has Residents Upset

A proposed solar farm that aims to clear nearly 20 acres of forest has raised a red flag with a number of Upton residents in the area. The proposed solar farm would be located along Howarth Dr. with access between 29 and 31 Howarth Dr. and extending to Westboro Rd.

ZPT Energy Solutions would be overseeing the construction of the solar farm and is currently going through the approval process with town officials. The land was officially zoned as Agricultural Residential and includes designated wetlands.

On June 26, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the project; the applicant was seeking a special permit and site

plan approval. The owner of the land is listed as Thompson Family Realty Trust of Southborough.

The June 26 hearing was continued

until July in order to give the applicant more time to respond to comments and questions from the Board's reviewing engineer. However, at the July continuation, the Planning Board did not have a quorum, so the public hearing is continued until August 28.

Jason Chimienti, who resides on Francis Dr., adjacent to Howarth Dr., a vocal opponent of the project, sent a

letter to neighbors about his concerns.

He encouraged them to attend the July Planning Board meeting, which was ultimately rescheduled to August. Although the Planning Board could not formally discuss the project at the July meeting without a quorum, many citizens in attendance made their feelings known. "There were some very angry residents

at that meeting," said Chimienti. "How could you possibly think of clear cutting 19 acres?" Residents also stated the solar project will negatively impact home values and ruin the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

The Department of Energy Resources states it strongly discourages solar farms "that result in significant loss of land and natural resources, including farm and forest land, and encourages rooftop siting, as well as locations in industrial and commercial districts, or on vacant, disturbed land."

Last year, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a variance request for the use

of the Residential/Agricultural land for Commercial/Industrial. Some property owners, including Rob and Betsy Knox who reside on Westboro Rd., have raised questions about those related public hearings. According to the Knox's, the Thompson Family Trust failed to send letters to abutters for the first ZBA hearing so it was postponed until abutters could be

notified. "The ZBA handled that properly," said Betsy.

However, what the Knox's feel is more concerning is the letters that went out

to abutters for the next hearing had the incorrect address for the proposed solar farm. "We realized the address was actually a half mile away from the actual project and on the wrong side of the road," explained Rob. "As a result, many people who got

the notice didn't go to the public hearing because they thought it didn't affect their property."

Bill Andrews, who was the ZBA Chair at that time, stated due to those concerns, "It might have to come back to the ZBA," he said. "We don't want there to be any confusion." Speaking only for himself, Andrews said he's sympathetic to the residents but "if we don't own the land, we can't control the land."

The Knox's said they are not anti-solar by any means. "We believe clear-cutting that much undisturbed forest, on such

a steep slope, above wetlands is not environmentally sound," said Rob. At this point, the couple feels because the proper steps were not taken when the process initially began, it should be started over. "We're entitled to the correct process," he added.


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