Sutton selectmen seek town lawyer's advice on land proposed for solar farm
By Susan Spencer TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
SUTTON — Conflicting statements about whether or not Robert and Verna Maki of 15 Dewitt Road plan to take a portion of their 150 acres of farmland out of agricultural-protection tax status, Chapter 61A, to develop a solar farm prompted selectmen at Tuesday’s meeting to table any recommendation regarding the proposal until the town’s lawyer could be consulted.
The Makis have requested an amendment to the zoning bylaw, which is an article on the special town meeting warrant for Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m., that would allow up to 30 percent of land in a residentially zoned parcel bigger than 100 acres to be used as a solar farm, according to Town Administrator James A. Smith.
The Makis have been working with developer Eosol America on using 38 acres on their Christmas tree farm for a large-scale solar farm. However, voters at town meeting last fall adopted a bylaw limiting solar-power generation to 250 kilowatts in areas zoned for residential use.
The proposed solar farm was discussed at a Conservation Commission meeting last June as generating 4 to 6 megawatts.
Mr. Smith told selectmen that the request to take 38 acres out of Chapter 61A to lease to the solar farm represented a change in use, not a sale of the land. The owners would have to pay approximately $13,000 in taxes for the years that land was held in 61A.
Mr. Smith also said that the owners had expressed interest in a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes arrangement, which would have to be approved by town meeting voters.
“We have to do something to stay in Sutton,” Mrs. Maki said. “The area where the panels would go would be landlocked, way up on the property. We could continue as a Christmas tree farm.”
While recognizing the landowners’ desire to keep the farm intact, selectmen objected to the timing and structuring of the Makis’ proposal, coming right on the heels of the new bylaw limiting solar farms in residential areas.
“This has certainly been rushed at. It’s been thrown down our throats,” said Selectman John L. Hebert.
Selectman Richard Hersom said, “We’re taking a parcel of land R-1 and turning it into a commercial property.
Confusion about the status of the proposal arose when Christian Kruger, a forester who works with Mr. Maki, said, “Technically, my client hasn’t filed yet to remove 61A. I advised him it would be fruitless unless the bylaw was amended.”
However, Selectman Richard Hersom produced a letter dated Oct. 27, 2011, from lawyer Scott Fenton of Bowditch & Dewey, indicating a notice of intent to sell 40 to 50 acres of land, which would require giving the town the right of first refusal to purchase it.
Mr. Kruger said the letter was incorrect, since the intent was to lease, not sell the land, and the actual acreage was 38 acres