Hermitage Club solar project siting causes local concern


WILMINGTON — The Planning Commission wants to protect the town's "scenic vistas and mountain views," according to a letter sent to the Public Service Board about a proposed solar project on Haystack Mountain.

"There is general support for it. The concerns were just regarding screening and so forth," Wilmington Zoning Administrator Craig Ohlson said. "Because there's screening in our ordinance."

The commission sent the letter on Sept. 2. The Hermitage Club is seeking a certificate of public good for a 150 kilowatt solar project. SolarSense is working with the company on solar projects.

A solar array is proposed for an area off Dutchman, a trail on the Hermitage Club's private ski resort on Haystack. Part of the proposed site goes into what's called "glebe land," which is owned by the town. Development there normally requires approval from the Select Board.

The Hermitage Club says the array will only be visible from Haystack, properties owned by the company and land owned by the Cold Brook Fire District. No buffer but "natural screening" was proposed in the application. About 1.85 acres would be cleared to prevent issues with shading.

"The town encourages solar installations in previously cleared areas used primarily for commerce. The proposed siting is within our forested natural mountain vista," the commission wrote, adding that solar arrays "are expressly not allowed in scenic vistas and where they significantly disrupt the preservation of native trees. Haystack Mountain is a key scenic vista of the town of Wilmington and is strictly to be preserved."

A balloon test was requested by the commission to establish how the project would affect the views.

This marks the first commercial solar project Wilmington has seen planned in its community.

"There aren't any other ones," Ohlson said. "We must have some small scale residential panels. Offhand, I can't think of them. But I'm sure there are."

The commission wanted to establish itself as an interested party in the application process, according to the letter. The commission said it is supportive of Hermitage Club development including solar alternative energy.

In the application, the Hermitage Club stated Ohlson had been consulted when there were no municipal screening requirements. But since that conversation, new regulations were adopted. They were effective Aug. 10.

"While the state does not specifically allow for local control over the placement of solar arrays other than screening and setbacks, the state does specifically allow town zoning to manage and protect the character," the commission wrote before citing sections of Vermont statutes. "Further, case law supports the right of the town to protect its economic base, tourism drawn by the towns' scenic vistas, its historic character, its rural and agricultural fields and bucolic vistas."

Wilmington has a regulation that touches on that subject. It says solar arrays should not be placed "on agricultural lands, in scenic vistas and fields, or in other natural aesthetic settings that contribute to the rural and agricultural character of the town."

Previous talks between the town's Development Review Board and the Hermitage Club indicated the company's "intent to keep solar installations out of view and to the sides of ski trails, requiring the minimum deforestation," the commission said.

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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