NG event venues, solar ordinance at Planning Board meeting

| Joanne Cole, NGX | Two applications relating to event venues, one from Royal River Orchards and the other from Coolidge Family Farm, were approved by the planning board at […]

| Joanne Cole, NGX |

Two applications relating to event venues, one from Royal River Orchards and the other from Coolidge Family Farm, were approved by the planning board at its March 3 meeting.  In other action, the board held a public hearing on the town’s proposed solar ordinance and scheduled a hearing on a new commercial building on Sabbathday Road.

Noise and traffic were the concerns expressed about the application by Royal River Orchards, of 181 Peacock Hill Road, to host outdoor events.  Resident Laura Lachance, who moved to Peacock Hill in 1994, described “a quiet neighborhood” with the sounds and feel of farms and countryside.  When Royal River Orchards began selling apples and cider in fall 2019, she said it was “a nice surprise to the neighborhood.” 

But the prospect of hours-long outdoor events is different, Lachance said, describing noise that will travel (“it’s a tent”), additional traffic on a road without sidewalks, and the possibility of intoxicated drivers.  She also questioned whether an event venue fits within the limited subset of business activities permitted in a rural residential zone or how it could be considered to be related to an agricultural use. 

Another neighbor, Deb Libby of 139 Peacock Hill Road, wondered whether the new use amounted to a zoning change or would have an impact on property values.  She also asked about the applicability of the town’s noise ordinance. 

It was concern about noise that the board focused on.  Town planner Scott Hastings called the town’s noise ordinance confusing and noted the challenge of enforcing it.  It’s more practical and effective to set a noise cut-off time, Hastings said, something done with similar past applications. Taking into account that events at Royal River Orchards will be outside, not in a barn or building, the board decided that amplified music must stop by 10 pm.  They declined to impose a clear-out time for attendees.

A request by Coolidge Family Farm to add another cabin to its event venue on the Lewiston Road was approved following expedited review.  Two similar small cabins are already on the property, members noted, and all three would be used only in conjunction with events, not as independent rentals.      

The board also considered an application from ICON Connections to build a new 42’ x 60’ nonresidential building on its property at 137 Sabbathday Road.  ICON hopes to split the building, use a portion of it, and rent out the rest as commercial space.  The board considered whether the proposed driveway is permissible and, because of close proximity to a residential neighbor, minimum setbacks and fencing and plantings for screening.  The board voted to hold a public hearing on the application – date now TBA, since the town has suspended meetings until at least April 1.

The meeting opened with a public hearing on the town’s proposed solar energy system ordinance.  Carl Wilcox of Intervale Road, the only resident to speak, took issue with what he saw as contradictions in the ordinance.  In particular, he questioned provisions that limit the size of arrays in resource protection zones to less than 1500 s.f., while no comparable size restriction applies in limited residential shoreland zones.  Wilcox reeled off a list of what’s allowed in the resource protection zone, including piers, docks, and more:  “You can put in roadways, on and on and on… home occupations… residential dwellings…  All this in resource protection, but you can’t put a few posts in the ground to put solar panels?”

Citing his own “marginal land” in the resource protection zone, Wilcox noted the missed opportunity for clean, low-impact energy and “substantial” lost tax revenues for the town under the ordinance. Wrapping up, Wilcox said the size restriction on arrays not only lacks logic but amounts to a taking, because “there’s a market opportunity and a reasonable use for that land, [but] you can’t do it.”   

After Wilcox concluded, the board voted 3-1 to send the ordinance as-is to the select board.  The board is expected to place the ordinance on the warrant for voters to consider at town meeting.    

Video of the Planning Board’s March 3 meeting is available here.