China planners say two solar ordinances will not be ready for town meeting

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members decided at their Feb. 23 meeting neither of two ordinances they are working on would be ready for a vote at the June 8 town business meeting.

They hope by November to have a new solar ordinance, and probably an addition to the Land Use Ordinance dealing with shoreland stabilization, ready for voters’ action.

The new solar ordinance is a fairly complete draft, but board members continue to tweak it. The basic wording is taken from a Maine Audubon Society document that board member Toni Wall converted to ordinance form and she and the rest of the board adapted to China’s needs.

For example, the Town of China has only four districts. All land not in a shoreland, stream protection or resource protection district is in the rural district. Board members had adjusted the Audubon district list at an earlier meeting; on Feb. 23, they also amended the permitting process for solar projects in the three protective districts.

In related decisions, they redefined the size of projects, enlarging those classified as small or medium for permitting purposes. The initial definition of a small ground-mounted project as less than 100 square feet was changed to allow up to 500 square feet, for example.

Board members talked about how tall solar panels should stand. Most in Maine have lower edges about three feet from the ground, but Codes Officer Jaime Hanson said in other states, panels stand five feet above the ground to allow crops to be grown underneath them.

They discussed whether any of the equipment in a large commercial solar project would make noise, and if so how to deal with it. Board Chairman Randy Downer said noise was a concern to neighbors as the board reviewed the previously-approved project on Route 3.

The second proposed change in town ordinances, regulation of shoreland stabilization projects, would require local provisions adding to state requirements, because China currently uses state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) standards. Hanson described them as a “functional product” that controls run-off into water bodies.

Board members are considering drafting provisions that would exceed the DEP regulation by considering aesthetics and special ecological protections. Their initial focus was on China Lake; they postponed answering Downer’s question about including China’s share of the Three Mile Pond shoreline.

Board member Scott Rollins referred them to the website of the Maine Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC), which regulates land use in Maine’s unorganized territories. The other board members agreed they should read relevant parts.

Board members unanimously approved Downer’s suggestion that he ask a limnologist to offer advice. He has a person in mind, and if she is not available knows where to find others. (A limnologist is an expert on all scientific aspects of inland waters.)

As part of his report to the planning board, Hanson said he has completed the course of study required to become a certified local health officer.

The next China Planning Board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 9.


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