Amend the proposed solar bylaw (Article 19) at town meeting

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By Thursday, Apr 20 Letters  7 Comments

To the Editor:

The complex solar zoning bylaw proposed for the May 1 Annual Town Meeting is not very well-understood by Great Barrington voters. While there is broad support for allowing roof-mounted solar arrays in residential areas, how many residents realize that the proposed bylaw could result in ground-mounted solar installations in their neighbors’ front, side or back yards?

In residential areas, Article 19 not only allows roof-mounted solar systems, but also grants “by right,” ground-mounted solar installations up to 750 square feet of project space and up to 15 feet high for accessory use. The bylaw could result in systems of 30 x 25 feet built in front, side or back yards. (These changes were made in the last meeting.)

A recent newspaper article needs to be corrected because it does not match with the proposed solar bylaw recently posted on the Town website. Perhaps the reason for the omission is that changes were made during a series of meetings after the interview.

To clarify what will be allowed, I have redrawn the solar bylaw table for residential zones, highlighting what is allowed “by right,” or allowed by special permit of the Planning Board or “not permitted.” Every solar installation is possible in residential areas except for commercial installations in R1A and R1B and R3 zones as shown:



The zone designations are not easily understood, either. Here’s a sketch, but the maps are available on the Town website, under “Zoning Bylaws and Maps.” You can magnify the maps to see them more clearly.

  • R1A/R1B includes the GB historic area designated by the Massachusetts Historic Commission west of Main Street. In Housatonic, it also includes areas off N. Plain Road, south of Wyantenuck Street; west to the Williams River, north to the town line, east bound by the old An area by Park Street south is included.
  • R2 encompasses areas north of Taconic Avenue, including the residential developments on Hemlock Hill, Barrington Brook, Long Pond Road, Christian Hill areas.
  • R3 includes a small area near Avery and another area east of the River and west of East Street. In Housatonic Village Center areas near Williams Street, east to Van Deusenville, north to the town line, west to the railroad line are included.
  • R4 includes areas east of Route 7, north to the town line, south to Blue Hill. Also, areas north of Seekonk Cross Road to the town line. Included are areas east of Taconic/Alford Road, west to the town line, south to Route 71 with some variations.


If this is what the Town wants, let’s be clear on what we’ll be voting on.

However, we need to be careful not to deplete unnecessarily green spaces, such as trees, arable land, including vegetable gardens. We should value our neighborhoods and open spaces which are well-articulated in the Master Plan. Solar energy has limitations, considering our cloudy weather.

We are told by legal counsel that if we allow roof-mounted systems “by right” for accessory use and amend the definition for “light industrial” to include “commercial solar installations,” we would make great legal and green energy strides.

Thus, ANY solar bylaw would show that the Town has promoted solar energy in zoning bylaws and would be consistent with Massachusetts laws. If townsfolk agree, amendments should be made “on the floor” during the May 1st Annual Town Meeting.

Sharon Gregory

Patricia Ryan

Gabrielle Senza

Great Barrington

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7 Comments   Add Comment

  1. John says:

    Truly Laughable that people want to control land which is not theirs. If someone wants to put up solar panels and hope it makes a few watts, by gosh let them. Bigger picture, tax dollars should. It be used to subsidize a private solar system. If it is truly a worthwhile venture, it needs to stand on it own financial merits to succeed to to fail

    1. Tom Blauvelt says:

      Hi John,
      All real property is subject to land use regulations. It is commendable not laughable that people care enough about the town to make sure we get they bylaw structured in such a way that it benefits everyone.

    2. Joe Carini says:

      A major purpose of planning boards and zoning bylaws is to help direct, control, and hopefully guide the development of real estate to it’s highest and best use, while also ensuring some stability in our living environment. That’s why landowners submit to some control of and restrictions on their real estate by municipal authority .
      Our planning board and some concerned citizens are working hard to modify our bylaws to accommodate a relatively new and important technology. That’s what this discussion is about and all sincerely felt opinions are valuable. Thanks for yours.

  2. Michelle Loubert says:

    Living in Housatonic and exposed to “solar sprawl,” I applaud the exhaustive research evidenced here. It’s one thing to post (such as I am doing here)….quite another to back up the talk (post) with well-researched information. Impressive.

  3. Maggie Mitchell says:

    I love the idea of “going green” and solar energy vs non-renewable energy, but I must admit that these “Solar Farms” are hideous to see and also somewhat ironic(in my mind) to be driving along and see these, especially in an area that prides itself on bucolic pastoral views….I think we need to move forward with caution! Can we require fencing a boundary of evergreen trees be left to maintain the beauty of the countryside?

  4. Jonathan Hankin says:

    Just to be perfectly clear, ground mounted solar installations are permitted TODAY BY RIGHT as an accessory use in ANY ZONE. NO SIZE RESTRICTION and up to TWENTY-FIVE feet in height, as long as they meet the front, side and rear yard restrictions of the underlying zoning. I have not seen any of this kind of installation on the Hill. Perhaps Gabrielle, Pat and Sharon have seen some that are stoking their fears. If so, please advise where. This zoning amendment seeks to place some reasonable controls on solar while encouraging its use. If the solar bylaw is voted down, the Town will be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 to defend an appeal of a ZBA decision. If the Town loses the appeal, which seems not unlikely given a number of legal opinions in similar cases that take positions that are exactly opposite our Town Counsel (including, ironically, one of his partners), STATE LAW WILL TAKE OVER and ANY SOLAR PROJECT OF ANY SCALE will be permitted BY RIGHT IN ANY ZONE IN TOWN. Your vote is important. Please make sure you fully understand the issues and what is at stake.

    1. Sharon Gregory says:

      This “all or nothing approach” is fear-mongering. We need a solar bylaw, no argument, but many aspects of this proposal are an overreach. What the Planning Board proposed after the second public hearing included improvements which were stripped away in the final version. These changes are in direct conflict with our desire to maintain the character of our neighborhoods, especially in our dense residential areas.

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