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March 23, 2013

Solar farm plan grazing in Newbury

Common Pasture proposal drawing heat from residents

NEWBURY — A proposed solar farm on a portion of the 72-acre Pikul Farm on Scotland Road that is considered part of the historic Common Pasture isn’t winning much favor with residents.

J.R. Colby of Colby Farm, whose family’s farmland is adjacent to the proposed site of the project, said a solar farm would not only impact Scotland Road, it would “change the whole face of the town.”

“The Common Pasture is a tiny, tiny fraction of what it once was,” said Colby, whose family has farmed in town since 1955. “When open land gets changed or developed, it doesn’t come back,” he said.

But Richard Kleiman of Sage Stone — the largest solar development firm in Massachusetts — assured that solar farms are “very benign sites” and that agricultural activity. including haying and the tending of sheep, would still continue on Pikul Farm if the project advances.

Land-use arrangements such as this are a way to help local family farmers stay in business, Kleiman said.

But after more than two hours of discussion, the Board of Selectmen last week held off voting on Sage Stone’s request and continued its public hearing on the project until next week. Selectmen are the granting authority in town for special permits required for solar developments.

Sage Stone’s proposal represents the town’s first solar application and underscores the need to establish a solar bylaw in Newbury, Planning Board Chairman Kathleen Pearson told the standing room-only crowd on hand for the public hearing. Pearson said her board is working on drafting such a bylaw.

The hearing continuation was originally planned for Tuesday, but was moved to next Wednesday, March 27, because of a conflict with another meeting on issues concerning erosion on Plum Island. The hearing will continue during the selectmen’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

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