Westborough town officials disagree on moving forward with solar project
By Michael Gelbwasser, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Voters at the annual Town Meeting Saturday, March 15, will decide on a proposal to allow the town to lease six acres of the contaminated Superfund site at the corner of Otis Street and Smith Valve Parkway for a solar project. Voters also will decide on a related change to the dimensional regulations in Westborough’s zoning bylaws. Both require approval from a two-thirds majority.
The Board of Selectmen voted Feb. 25 to make its recommendation at town meeting.
However, Chair Ian Johnson proposed removing the lease authorization request from the warrant.
“I’m not opposed to solar. I’m not opposed to solar on someone’s property. I just don’t feel like we have done enough with vetting this with the public,” said Johnson, who suggested moving the item to the next town meeting and holding public meetings in the meantime.
Johnson said he heard “a lot of questions,” including about “what we can do (and) what we can’t do,” during a public discussion of the warrant articles Feb. 24.
“I just feel like putting this here now, where we haven’t answered a number of those in opposition, that it’s not ready for us to present,” Johnson said. “Having seen that in the past when we’ve done this, these are the ones that historically go down to defeat.”
Selectman Denny Drewry supported keeping the lease authorization on the warrant.
“Maybe we can have the answers by town meeting,” he said.
Town Manager Jim Malloy also supported going ahead with the warrant articles.
“I think we’re looking at this in the wrong way,” he noted. “We’re not going to be signing a lease on March 15. We’re seeking authority to sign a lease. And we’re seeking a dimensional regulation for something that could be put in potentially in the future.”
Malloy added that “the biggest issue seems to be [a] conflict with the bike trail.”
Westborough’s zoning allows for solar projects on the site, but not bike trails. Malloy said feedback he has received from potential solar project developers indicates “a willingness to work with the town to develop a bike trail across the property.”
“I think we would lose a lot of ground if we backed off now,” Malloy said. “I think it would be a lost opportunity. Because the way most companies work, they’ve got money to invest now.”
Despite Johnson’s concerns, the board agreed to keep both articles on the warrant.
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