LMPC refines draft solar ordinance, will invite public comment at October 23 workshop; updates on docks

| Joanne Cole, NGX | Continuing work on an ordinance to regulate solar energy systems, the Land Management Planning Committee met on September 25. The upshot: several decisions and new […]

| Joanne Cole, NGX |

Continuing work on an ordinance to regulate solar energy systems, the Land Management Planning Committee met on September 25. The upshot: several decisions and new questions that will inform the next draft. LMPC and town planner Scott Hastings expect to have that further revision ready for public comment at a workshop to be held on October 23 at 5:30 pm at the Meetinghouse.

Two issues dominated LMPC’s September 25 solar discussion: what projects should be required to provide a decommissioning plan and financial guarantees against abandonment, and how close to property lines a ground-mounted array may be sited.

Answers to those questions turned in part on scale. “What matters most to us is size and intrusiveness,” said committee member Charles Gauvin. What size array would be objectionable if the owner simply walked away, leaving “this huge thing just falling apart,” as member Jean Libby put it. What size array is big enough to be an imposition if located near an abutting neighbor’s property line?

Values and policy priorities also came into play, not just size. “How open and welcoming to solar power do we want to be?” asked planner Hastings. The committee acknowledged that at some point regulation and added costs could discourage an owner or developer from pursuing a worthy project that would have helped diversify the energy mix.

Drafts of the ordinance so far have used 17,000 square feet as the line triggering the requirement to provide a decommissioning plan and financial guarantee to cover costs of removal. But discussion at this meeting persuaded the committee to lower the line, so that arrays 10,000 s.f. and up will now have to fulfill those steps.

Concern about an array’s full footprint proved to be the key. The 17,000 s.f. figure, taken from South Portland’s ordinance, measures only the area below the angled panels. Include the space between rows, and a 17,000 s.f. project might add up to a 24,000 s.f. footprint, member George Colby estimated. That’s almost half an acre, member John Salisbury noted, a full quarter of a two-acre lot. An array of that size would have even greater impact in certain parts of town, member Jean Libby pointed out, for example in the lower village, where many grandfathered lots fall well short of the two-acre minimum. A 17,000 s.f. array there could dominate the parcel and significantly affect the neighbors.

The committee settled on 10,000 s.f.–measured using the panels’ maximum dimension, not angled–as the new threshold. Hastings will confer with the town attorney about what form the financial guarantee should take and how to ensure it remains in effect, possibly for a decade or more.

As for setback requirements, the committee let stand a draft provision that would permit an owner or developer to seek a waiver of up to half the usual setback distance. Depending on the zone, minimum setbacks range between 20 and 30 feet at lot sides and rear. Under the solar ordinance those could be reduced in order to allow for optimal sun exposure. “We’re trying to write an ordinance for sunlight,” said committee chair Brian Shedlarski, “We have to have some give-and-take” on setback requirements. The committee agreed.

Following consultation with the town attorney, Planner Scott Hastings expects to share a further-revised version in time for public input at an LMPC workshop on October 23 at 5:30 pm. The most-current draft of the solar ordinance can be accessed here.

Docks on the lake. In the course of considering a possible comprehensive lake ordinance, the LMPC decided not to address moorings and Hasting has determined that commercial marinas are not permitted in town. But at least two other issues remain, around docks: whether to regulate dock dimensions in general, and what, if anything, to do about multiple back lots with shared access to the water.

At the September meeting the committee looked at other towns’ dock ordinances for guidance. Bridgton, for example, limits shared access to one dwelling for every 25 feet of frontage. In addition, only one boat per 25 feet of frontage is allowed. The committee had questions about that approach. What about a single lot owned by multiple families? What about nonconforming lots that have had docks for years?

A gap between New Gloucester’s existing requirements and actual practice also emerged. Under the town’s current ordinance, docks are considered temporary structures requiring permits. Resident and longtime lake person Alan Gregory said that if anyone has ever sought and obtained a permit, he hasn’t seen it. “It must be in a display case somewhere,” Gregory quipped, or “in the archives as part of the Historical Society.”

Would a new ordinance on docks apply to existing users, many of whom apparently do not have permits, or only to requests for new docks, the committee wondered. Can something that’s temporary even be grandfathered for legal purposes? Planner Hastings will add questions about temporary structures, permits, grandfathering, and more to his list of topics to discuss with the town attorney. LMPC expects to resume discussing docks in November, unless that meeting is needed for follow-up solar discussions.

Video of LMPC’s September 25 meeting can be viewed here.