TOWN OF RUTLAND

PLANNING COMMISSION

MINUTES

9-19-13



Meeting open at 7:00 PM



Commissioners Present:



Howard Burgess, William Matteson, Charles Vajda, Tony Flory, Jerry Stearns and Raymond Leonard

Also present were Select Board members; John Paul Faignant, Steve Hawley, Joe Dicton and Town Attorney Kevin Brown



The Commissioners reviewed the minutes of 8-15-13. Mr. Vajda cited several grammar mistakes. Mr. Stearns moved to approve the 8-15-13 minutes as corrected. Mr. Leonard made a second to the motion. The motion passed unanimously.



The Commission reviewed the Barker's proposed two lot Post Road final subdivision application. Mr. Matteson cited the fact that the Commission has received a letter from the Coles stating they plan to incorporate the parcel to be sold by the Barkers, into their lot.



Mr. Flory moved to approve the subdivision with a condition the Coles merge the lot into their existing lot. Mr. Burgess made a second to the motion. The motion passed unanimously.



Mr. John Paul Faignant said the purpose of the meeting is because there is a lot of solar development going on in town and it seems to be the favorite child of the regulatory person, such that, it is really not subject to the same type of review that other developments are.



Mr. Faignant said he does not think that any Select Board member is anti-solar. He said members are concerned with the effect these fields will have on residential property, in terms of view and other amenities. Mr. Faignant said it is his view that the Town needs to be aggressive at the Planning Commission level similar to what was done in Waitsfield.



Mr. Faignant said the Commission can do the quickest implementation for standards, which the Board wants to see met for solar development in the town. He said the standards would give the Town an oar in the water. Mr. Faignant cited the proposed cold River Road solar project and said that screening and other appropriate things may not be enough for the neighbors that have a view from the ridge line.





He said homeowners on the ridge line should not have to suffer property devaluation because the Town needs the Grand List to support the operation of the Town. He said we can't afford to take a cut in residential values. Mr. Faignant said homeowners property values would go down if they have a solar panel view verses a meadow view.



Mr. Faignant stressed that nobody on the Board is against solar power. He said it should have the same type review as other development. Mr. Faignant cited the fact that the Town of Waitsfield has extensive regulations in their Town Plan which address solar power. Mr. Matteson said the Commissioners have discussed the issue and that they all agree with the Select Board. Mr. Matteson said no one on the Commission is against solar panels as long as they are located in the proper places.



Mr. Brown told those in attendance that the Town's tool box is empty and that we need to load up the tool box. He said the Planning Commission and the Select Board would have a seat at the table when a matter comes up before the Public Service Board (PSB). He said it is clear that the Town would need to have specific standards to be heard and have any chance of having any influence on the decision making process. He said with the standards the PSB would listen but in the end has to give “due consideration” to the Town's position.



Mr. Brown said the Town would have a fighting chance with standards. He said the current Town Plan needs to be addressed since it states alternative energy should be encouraged. He said alternative energy could be in conflict with other areas in Town, such as open space, conservation land and wildlife habitat.



Mr. Brown said the Town of Waitsfield Town Plan is better than any other town plan regarding siting conditions. He said in one project the Town was able to get a project reduced by 10% and got additional screening. He said ultimately the project went ahead.



Mr. Matteson asked Mr. Brown if he is suggesting a stand alone document or putting siting conditions in a zoning document. Mr. Brown said the siting standards would go in the Town Plan. Mr. Faignant said the Town would have to amend the Town Plan.



Mr. Matteson told Mr. Brown that the Solar farm proposed for the Cold River Road would not be off in the distance rather it would be right in your face. Mr. Brown said the town would have influence with siting standards. He said the siting standards would not stop a project, however, standards such as no development above a certain elevation or not in a flood plain might knock development out of certain areas.



Mr. Brown said with standards the Town could carve out certain areas provided the Town has identified the areas. Mr. Brown cited historic structures and said the Town Plan would have to say these are historic sites. He said the structures would have to be identified. He said there could be a particular view corridor of a property, which should be preserved.



Mr. Brown said the Town should also identify specific habitat locations and by doing so will help to exclude project from certain areas. He said outside of the excluded areas the Town should have have specific standards or guidelines which address; setbacks, size and height.

Mr. Brown said the legislature's foot is on the accelerator of alternative energy and the PSB is doing what the legislature has told them to do, which 25% of Vermont's energy to be supplied by renewables by 2025 and 90 % by 2050.



Mr. Faignant asked for a timeline in order to get things done. Mr. Brown will develop a timeline for the Town to consider. Mr. Faignant suggested an area, like an industrial zone, where the Town would look more favorable regarding alternative energy projects.



Mr. Matteson suggested redesigning the area where the Cold River Road solar farm has been proposed from Industrial to something different. Mr. Matteson said due to environmental constraints the land is unlikely to be develop for industrial or commercial uses.



Mr. Brown informed the Commissioners that the PSB would require a developer to set aside money for the decommissioning of the facility. Mr. Brown said town officials need to determine those areas where the Town wants to be specific. He said the commission could also work on generally applicable standards such as setback and size. Mr. Brown said the more specific the Town is in designating specific areas the better. Mr. Matteson raised concerns with being too specific regarding acceptable locations.



Mr. Burgess questioned Mr. Brown regarding the presence of historic building near a proposed development. Mr. Brown said all of the cases he has reviewed had to do with the distance from the historic structure to a proposed development.

Mr. Dicton predicted Rutland will become the solar leader as to what happens in other states. He said the amount of panels proposed is going to be staggering to this community. He said between Rutland City, Rutland Town and Clarendon up to 100 acres could be consumed for solar generation.

He said the Town really needs to think about how it is going to regulate solar. He said the town would be the model for the country. Mr. Dicton said the Town has to try to influence developers.

He said the Town could tell a developer to consider covering the mall roof and parking lot with solar panels rather than developing farm land. He said the panels should go where the land is already developed and not in a farm field. Mr. Dicton said the amount of solar panels in the town will be unproportional to the rest of the State. Mr. Dicton said Rutland will be the solar capital of the country. Mr. Dicton said the Town can not eliminate the development but has to manage it.



Town resident Mr. David Fucci, who live on the Cold River Road, asked the Commissioners if the Town could create a standard of no solar panels within 250 feet, 500 feet or 1000 feet from any Town road. He said the panels should be pushed back from the road so they would not be right in your face.

Mr. Fucci told the Commissioners that he had viewed the “GroSolar” web site and that none of their solar developments are as close to residential homes as the one in Rutland Town would be. He said in one project GroSolar put up a wood fence 8 feet high the length of the project.

Mr. Brown said a town ordinance would only be a recommendation to the PSB. Mr. Brown said the Town would have a lot more power and success if its regulations are balanced and nuanced and directs to certain areas. Mr. Flory asked several times how much revenue the panels would generate in local taxes. Mr. Burgess is to check into the matter.

Mr. Stearns said the town needs to move forward as quickly as it can to try to provide help to the residents near the proposed Cold River Road solar site. Mr. Burgess said the Commission needs to come up with a site where panels can go.

Mr. Dicton suggested looking into whether the Town can impose a revenue based tax on solar power generation. He said the Town could tax on generation and not for the land they are using.

Mr. Vajda moved to close the meeting at 8:00 P.M. Mr. Leonard made a second to the motion. The motion passed unanimously.