CHINA: Town attorney has doubts about expanding unbuilt solar farm

by Mary Grow

At their Jan. 11 meeting, China Planning Board members were willing to hear an application to enlarge the approved, unbuilt solar farm on Route 3, until Codes Officer Jaime Hanson told them the town attorney has doubts.

Now they want more information before they make a decision.

New Hampshire-based SunRaise Investments plans the solar farm on a lot leased from Daniel Ouellette on the south side of Route 3, near the China Area Wash and Dry. It was originally approved May 19, 2020.

The permit was extended for a year in May 2021, to give SunRaise more time to reach agreement with Central Maine Power Company, whose lines are supposed to transmit the power from the solar panels.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, SunRaise spokesman Scott Anderson said the company had wanted a slightly larger solar farm, but was limited by China’s lot-coverage requirement. China’s ordinance says that in a rural zone, structures cannot cover more than 20 percent of the lot area; and, unlike other ordinances, China’s counts a solar panel as a structure.

Now, Anderson said, SunRaise has the opportunity to lease enough adjoining land south of the present lot to make a larger array possible within lot coverage limits, if the new leased area were counted as combined with the currently-leased area. The lease would provide that no other structure would be allowed on the newly-leased land.

Before investing in the lease, SunRaise wanted an indication that the planning board would approve an expanded solar farm, characterized as Phase Two of the development. If the board were ready to agree, SunRaise would obtain the lease and file a Phase Two application, perhaps as soon as Jan. 25.

Hanson said town attorney Amanda Meader found a Maine case from 2013 that she thought made it illegal to use two separate pieces of property as though they were one. Board members therefore asked Anderson to talk with Meader before they continue considering SunRaise’s request.

The other case on the Jan. 11 agenda was approval of a transfer of ownership of Little Learners Child Development Center, at 166 Tyler Road. After comparing the prior owner’s application, the current application and ordinance requirements, board members approved with three conditions. New owner Alicia Drever needs to measure water usage for 14 months to make sure the septic system capacity is adequate, and she needs letters from the local fire chief saying the property has access for emergency vehicles and adequate water for fire protection.

Board members postponed discussion of proposed ordinance amendments, after a lively argument about their next step.

In mid-summer 2021 they submitted three proposed changes to the China Select Board, expecting the changes to appear on the November ballot. Nothing happened.

They now know that select board members were not satisfied with the material as presented. Planning board Chairman Scott Rollins said the select board wants the original ordinances, the marked-up draft and the recommended final wording.

Board member Toni Wall said she could assemble the three versions and forward them to Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood to share with select board members.

No, Rollins said, planning board members need to review them first. He proposed a discussion at the Jan. 25 meeting.

Board member James Wilkens objected strongly. The planning board approved the amendments last spring, and he did not want “to go back to something the planning board already voted on.” If select board members ask for changes, then planning board members can consider the request(s).

Wall agreed with Wilkens. As the matter was left, Wall will forward the ordinances in their current forms to the select board, and planning board members will look at them again Jan. 25.

At issue are changes to two sections of the Land Use Ordinance and addition of a new section that would regulate future applications for solar energy systems. All require voter approval.

 
 

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