Hearing on Solar Panel Petition Concludes with Few Answers

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By Meredith McCulloch

The Reed Meeting room in Town Hall was filled nearly to capacity on October 1 for the hearing on a proposed bylaw amendment that would permit solar panels in the Historic District. Selectman Bill Moonan recused himself from chairing the meeting after explaining that he is also a member of the Historic District Commission. Selectman Mike Rosenberg opened the meeting with a reminder to those attending that the subject of the evening was the bylaw and not renewable energy.  He asked that speakers comment only on the proposed bylaw change.

Over 160 signatures accompanied a proposed petitioners’ article seeking a zoning by-law change to the Historic District Commission for the upcoming November Special Town Meeting.  Robert Dorer from First Parish Unitarian Universalist spoke for the petitioners. The proposed by-law change to the Historic District Commission Article 20 would add a new section regarding solar panels in the district. (For full text see: bedfordcitizen.wpengine.com/2018/09/first-parish-files-petition-for-special-town-meeting-article/)

The church won a suit on August 9 in Middlesex Superior Court against the HDC, allowing the First Parish solar panel project to go forward. Thereafter the Selectmen voted to appeal the court’s decision. First Parish then filed a petitioners’ article calling for a bylaw change on the warrant for Special Town Meeting scheduled for November 13.  The requisite hearing for the bylaw article was held at the Selectmen’s Monday meeting on October 1.

Dorer spoke on behalf of First Parish to say that the intention of the bylaw amendment is to streamline the approval process, reduce uncertainty for homeowners, and to move the Town toward NetZero energy use.

Rosenberg reported that the Selectmen have been informed by Town Counsel that Bedford’s Historic District was not formed under the Massachusetts General Bylaws enabling Historic Districts but under a special act of the legislature. That could mean that the Attorney General might not approve the bylaw change.

In a phone conversation on October 2, John Gibbons, senior minister at First Parish, told The Citizen that attorneys for the church believed the bylaw would be fully compliant.  They cited Article 2 of the Massachusetts Constitution and Massachusetts’ strong Home Rule provisions, which gives significant authority to local communities in Massachusetts. A copy of the letter was forwarded to the Selectmen.

Several suggestions about a way forward were made during the hearing.  Betsey Anderson, former Town Moderator and now deputy moderator, said Bedford’s bylaws prohibit amending a bylaw article on the floor. She added that the Selectmen could place a second article on the warrant that would allow Town Meeting to make the choice.

John Laferriere asked why the Selectmen had voted to appeal the court ruling.  Rosenberg said the action was done in executive session and therefore could not be made public at this time, but he was speaking for himself only.   He said he felt a responsibility to support board members who have stepped forward to serve the town and are called on to make controversial decisions.

Rosenberg commented that a non-binding referendum could be used, but that it would be more appropriate at Annual Town Meeting.  It was suggested that a vote at Town Meeting could be seen as a referendum. Resident Polly Herz suggested that the Selectmen could simply not pursue the appeal, allowing the First Parish panels to be installed, and then decide on a bylaw change for the future.

Doug Denny-Brown pointed out the financial cost of further delay, as state and federal financial incentives for solar are disappearing.

The hearing concluded when the Selectman needed to move on to a time-posted second hearing on the Cable TV bylaw.


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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