Land Management Planning Committee Considers Large Solar Projects, Moorings, and Docks

Joanne Cole

With a six-month moratorium in place for new large solar projects, the Land Management Planning Committee began discussing in earnest what a comprehensive solar ordinance might involve.  Also on their June 26 meeting agenda was possible regulation of docks and moorings, concerns first raised by the Sabbathday Lake Association.  In other business, the committee elected Brian Shedlarski as chair and Sam Coggeshall as vice-chair and welcomed new member John Salisbury.

The solar development moratorium approved by voters at the June 19 special town meeting gives the LMPC and town planner Scott Hastings time to develop a comprehensive, deliberate policy and eventually an ordinance to take to voters.  Hastings described a goal of finding the regulatory sweet spot: an ordinance that addresses the town’s concerns “without being overly restrictive.”  He drew attention to a particular challenge posed by large-scale solar: their impact on views.  One problem is an array located where it blocks a neighbor’s view.  But the more significant issue involves viewsheds and protecting distant scenic views. 

As an example, Jean Libby shared that someone had spoken to her about not wanting to come over Gloucester Hill and “look down and see a solar farm on the Intervale.”  As a practical matter, the committee wondered, how could you address that?  Would there be designated points in town and if the array could be seen from those points, “you can’t do it?” asked committee member Don Libby.  Shedlarski expressed reservations about differentiating among types of structures seen from a distance and singling out solar arrays for restrictive treatment.  “What’s objectionable to one person is not going to be the same for everyone,” he said. 

Jean Libby observed that, over the years, “we’ve had a lot of protection because of people like the Shakers, and the Chandlers.”  Now, however, Don Libby said, for some property owners a solar project might be “how they can continue to own that piece of property or get revenue off a piece of property in their retirement years.“  In the end, the committee decided to hold off on drafting anything about views until the community weighs in at public hearing. 

The committee also discussed possible height and run-off restrictions for ground-mounted arrays, reflectivity and glare, and provisions in the event arrays are abandoned at the end of their useful life.  Hastings and the committee agreed to distinguish among sizes of projects as they plan, and perhaps between commercial and residential projects.  Among other possibilities, an ordinance could require site plan review by the planning board for projects of a certain size and type (e.g., ground-mounted), or restrict large-scale projects to certain zoning districts.  The committee will also keep in mind the possibility of cooperatively owned solar projects, where residents band together on a large-scale project offsite.  For now, Hastings will continue to gather information and return with a discussion draft.   

As for moorings, the board decided to take no action on a mooring ordinance at this time.  Hastings shared that under Maine law one mooring is allowed by right to a shoreline property that meets New Gloucester’s minimum lot size and has 100 feet of frontage.  Lots lacking sufficient frontage but that have been owned since 1987 also get a mooring; all others must apply.  Those additional moorings must be placed and allocated by a town harbormaster, with ten percent reserved for non-residents.  For these purposes, Hastings explained, a resident must be a municipal resident, not simply a property owner.

Committee members noted that many property owners lack 100 feet of frontage or don’t date back to 1987 and could lose their moorings if the town adopted an ordinance.  Questions of leased land, rights of way, and shared ownership further complicate the picture.  Rather than open up this can of worms, as Don Libby put it, the committee decided to leave moorings as-is. 

Turning to docks, the committee discussed Sabbathday Shores’ controversial application for a 70-foot-long dock, recently approved by the Planning Board.  The existing dock ordinance provides limited guidance, saying a dock may be only “as long as needed.”  The committee considered what the objectives of a more detailed dock ordinance would be: minimizing hazards? maintaining consistency with other docks on the lake?  something else?

“Something else,” namely commercial docks or marinas, turned out to be at least part of the answer.  John Salisbury asked, “What if somebody acquires a back lot or right-of-way and decides to have a commercial dock?  That’s something I want to see regulated.”  The committee agreed that this backdoor route to a commercial marina should be treated differently than a marina that’s part of an existing business, as Outlet Beach is.  Hastings agreed to investigate ways an ordinance might “avoid the more commercial uses” and will share his findings with the committee.Video of the full June 26 Land Management Planning Committee meeting is available here.