NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

April 25, 2013

Lights out for solar farm

Homeowners plan to sue after selectmen reject array

NEWBURY — Scotland Road homeowners Donna and Gene Pikul will take the town to court after the Board of Selectmen denied them permission to build a solar farm on their property.

The Pikuls said yesterday they intend to sue the town for damages after selectmen voted Tuesday against their request for a special permit to allow a solar array. The Pikuls were seeking to lease 15 of the 72 acres on their farm for use as a solar energy facility.

The suit will charge the town with a “regulatory land taking” because the Pikuls believe the selectmen’s decision has severely limited what they can do with their own property, said Donna Pikul.

She contends that the board’s decision violates state law and is a gross overreach of the town leaders’ authority. While “everyone can have their opinion” on what they think about the project being proposed, “the selectmen have a fiduciary responsibility to follow the law,” she said.

Pikul declined to give the amount of damages they are seeking, but said that it would reflect the 25- to 35-year income stream her family was denied by the selectmen’s decision.

The applicants’ first step will be to appeal the decision — an action they must undertake within 20 days after the selectmen’s decision is filed with the town clerk. The board has 14 days to file its written decision.

At the close of what has been a contentious application process, selectmen found on Tuesday that Sage Stone, the solar consultants, had satisfied the majority of requirements needed to allow the installation of 14,040 solar panels on a portion of the Pikul Farm. But because a super majority of the board did not reach consensus on all five requirements that must be satisfied before a special permit can be granted, the application was ultimately denied.

The five findings selectmen must stipulate are: that the project is in the best interest of the town; it is not objectively found to be injurious or obnoxious to neighbors; it fulfills a common need or convenience not otherwise being met; it doesn’t adversely affect abutters by increased traffic or on-street parking; and machinery, vehicles, or supplies between the structure and the road are not visible from the road.

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