By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Northborough – When Wegmans opened its 130,000-square-foot store in Northborough in 2011, it brought more visitors to the region than any other place in Massachusetts, according to the Metrowest Visitors Bureau. The store was able to open thanks to a variance in the town's zoning. If a proposed amendment to the town's zoning bylaw passes at a special Town Meeting Monday, Oct. 28, such variances will be a thing of the past.
On Oct. 7, selectmen unanimously approved a two-article, citizen-initiated warrant. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on both articles Wednesday, Oct. 23, at 7 p.m. at the town offices, 63 Main St.
Under Article 2, so-called “use variances,” the kind that allowed the Northborough Crossing shopping center to be built, would be eliminated, according to Town Administrator John Coderre in an interview after the Selectmen's meeting.
The article was certified by the town clerk Oct. 7, the same day Selectmen approved the warrant. It was turned in by resident Lisa Maselli of Maple Lane. Efforts to reach Maselli for comment were unsuccessful.
Under Northborough's current bylaw, The Zoning Board of Appeals has the power to allow a use in a zoning district not otherwise permitted through a variance, said Town Planner Kathryn A. Joubert.
For example, retail isn's permitted in the town's industrial zone, but the ZBA granted a use variance in 2005, allowing for the creation of the Northborough Crossing shopping center, said Joubert.
Use variances may also be granted to those living in the groundwater protection district, allowing those residents to build additions to their homes or swimming pools. Those living in the business district who want to operate a business out of a single-family home may also require a use variance.
If enacted, Maselli's proposal would effectively end the ZBA's right to grant future use variances to anyone.
“Right now, the recourse is to apply for use variance,” said Joubert. “Once that ability taken away, you don's have another venue.”
Article 1 would place a moratorium on solar photovoltaic systems, including so-called solar farms.
If passed, the solar moratorium would last until May 1, 2014. According to the wording in the warrant article, “The purpose of this temporary moratorium is to allow sufficient time to engage in a planning process to address the effects of such structures and uses in Town and enact bylaws in a manner consistent with sound land use planning goals and objectives.”
There are solar farms in Westborough and Shrewsbury, but none in Northborough. However, Northborough resident Ziad Ramadan has been in discussions with the Conservation Commission to build solar arrays on his property on Newton Street.
Currently, Northborough does not have a bylaw regulating such installations. The petitioner is Greg Roody of Moore Lane, who abuts Ramadan's property.
That proposed solar farm is what triggered the citizen's petition, Coderre said, but any moratorium probably wouldn's likely affect Ramadan's plans, which could be grandfathered.
However, Roody said that he wants to put a hold on any other plans to build large, industrial solar farms in residential neighborhoods. Roody said he feared such a facility would have to be surrounded by razor wire with on-site industrial equipment on land that was once home to forests and wetlands.
The moratorium would only affect future proposals for large scale solar facilities that generate more than 256 kilowatts, according to Roody. Those wishing to install solar panels for home use would be unaffected, he said.
Both Articles 1 and 2 are proposed changes to the town's bylaw. As a result, they require a two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting.
This will be the first special Fall Town Meeting since 2006, said Coderre.