China planners decide to prepare separate solar ordinance

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members decided at their Sept. 22 meeting they should prepare a separate ordinance to set requirements for solar developments, instead of trying to amend the existing land use ordinance.

Attorney Thomas Federle, of Federle Law, in Portland, has been representing SunRaise Investments as the company got approval for two solar projects near Route 3. He found that China’s lot coverage requirement, under which solar panels are counted as structures, limits the size of a solar array.

China ordinances say that structures cannot cover more than 20 percent of a lot in the rural district or 15 percent in shoreland, resource protection and stream protection districts. The purpose is to maintain natural ground that absorbs rainwater and thereby to limit run-off that could carry unwanted nutrients into water bodies.

At the planning board’s Aug. 25 meeting, Federle and board members discussed amending the current ordinance to add a definition of solar array and a provision that solar panels would not count in lot coverage calculations.

Federle’s main point was the ground under solar panels is maintained as a meadow. The grass will absorb water dripping from the panels.

Board members and Codes Officer Bill Butler were sympathetic to his view. But by Sept. 22, they were seeing complications and possible unintended consequences from suggested amendments.

One issue is whether a proposed change, in whatever form, should apply everywhere in town. Butler suggested shoreland, stream protection and resource protection areas need more protection than rural areas.

After board members decided they would prefer a separate ordinance, Federle offered to collect samples from other Maine towns for their guidance.

Any new ordinance would need approval by China voters before becoming effective.

The Sept. 22 meeting was entirely virtual. The motion to adjourn included a provision that the next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 13, will be in-person in the town office.

China selectmen are also scheduled to meet Oct. 13, because their usual Monday meeting, which would have been Oct. 12, falls on the Columbus Day holiday, when the town office will be closed.


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