Sharon solar buffer plan buffeted

SHARON — Plans for meeting the conditions imposed on the Hilltop Road solar array by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) were heard at a regular P&Z meeting Wednesday, Feb. 14.

Representing Verogy of West Hartford, engineers for the project, was engineering manager Kyle Perry, who reviewed proposed plans for screening the solar array from the view of neighboring property owners.

The first version envisioned polyethylene plastic mesh being installed only on the portion of the chain link fencing that would be visible to neighbors. The plastic mesh could be expected to last five or six years before needing to be replaced. Under that proposal, the town would need to pay replacement costs as needed, estimated at $7,000. Existing trees would remain and two additional small trees would be added, as presented by Perry, but not well received by the P&Z.

“I thought some trees would be added to soften the view,” said P&Z Chairman Laurance Rand, expressing the stance of most P&Z members, who expected to see plans for a more substantial buffer. In all buffer planning for the project, however, the buffer extends no further than to seek to improve the view of the neighbors along Hilltop Road.

An alternative plan that would see the planting of 21 young white pine or western cedar trees could thicken the buffer for the neighbors, but the cost for that option was estimated at $14,000.

First Selectman Casey Flanagan observed that the goal is to keep costs down while providing adequate screening on behalf of neighboring property owners on the western side of the project. If the alternative plan were to be approved, the CT Green Bank organization, represented at the meeting by Nikki Dow, solar project manager, would agree to guarantee and maintain with regular watering the newly planted trees for one year, replacing as necessary.

“The more trees planted, the lower the savings,” Flanagan noted.

“We asked for a screening plan. The P&Z charge is to be sure that neighboring property owners are not impacted,” Rand said.

Following clarifying discussion of Verogy’s preliminary screening plans, the P&Z agreed that Verogy and the CT Green Bank should return to a future meeting with a detailed plan for meeting the conditions of the approval, including a more definitive screening plan.

Land use administrator Jamie Casey recalled the history of the project and that it had been first proposed two years ago and that such projects are guided by state statutes.

“This is basically a municipal project,” Casey said.

“You seem to be seeking to minimize the cost rather than doing it the right way,” a resident commented.

Another plan offered by the Sharon Energy and Environment Commission (SEEC) and introduced at the meeting by SEEC member Mike Nadeau, would see the planting of 41 trees along with habitat plantings to enhance the existing nature trail, but because the P&Z had not reviewed that plan in advance, it could not be discussed further.

Nadeau also suggested planning for a rain garden to support the habitat plantings.

P&Z member Stanley MacMillan asked about responsibility for mowing and learned that the town would mow the area outside of the chain link fence around the perimeter and that CT Green Bank would mow inside the fence and between the solar panels.

Marijuana prohibition

By unanimous vote following a public hearing with no public comment, the P&Z adopted an amendment to current zoning regulations to prohibit the retail sale of marijuana anywhere in Sharon. Recreational marijuana establishments are also prohibited.

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