West Portsmouth Street solar project denied rehearing

  • James Thorpe stands in front of his house next to a cornfield on West Portsmouth Street in February, looking across the street where a 54-acre solar farm was looking to move in. The Concord Zoning Board of Adjustment declined to rehear a request for a variance that would have allowed the array to come in. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor file

  • Concept art for the new Concord Theatre with its illuminated sign. Courtesy—

Monitor staff
Published: 6/6/2018 10:39:21 PM

Residents on West Portsmouth Street who feared a 54-acre solar array moving in can breathe a sigh of relief: The project is dead.

A packed zoning board meeting in Concord started out with members denying a rehearing to NextEra Energy, which was looking to build a 10-megawatt solar array in the crook of the Merrimack River on West Portsmouth Street.

NextEra Energy was denied a zoning variance based on the city’s calculation for “impervious area” a few months ago. On Wednesday, they asked the Zoning Board of Adjustment to reconsider its decision.

However, the board quickly upheld its decision with a 4-1 vote. Members said they did not err in their decision making and that the company’s argument was similar to the one they voted against.

Under current Concord zoning definitions and rules, the impervious area of each panel is calculated by laying it perfectly flat as if it were a piece of pavement. In a residential open space district, only 10 percent of a lot can be covered, and that includes elements of a dwelling like driveways and sheds. NextEra’s proposal would have covered 70 percent of the lot under city definitions.

NextEra was asking the Zoning Board of Adjustment to consider whether the city’s definition of impervious surfaces should apply to solar panels because they do not prevent rainwater from reaching the ground and vegetation from growing under the panels.

The decision essentially kills the project, which would have rented land from Brochu Nursery and sold its power to Connecticut. It also sets a steep precedent for any prospective companies looking to bring a large-scale solar project in the residential open space district, which covers a large portion of the city’s land, according to city maps.

Flashing lights

Efforts to renovate the old Concord Theatre got a glowing recommendation from the ZBA.

The board approved a request to allow an “intensely illuminated” sign in an area where one is not permitted at 16-18 South Main St., where local developer Steve Duprey is partnering with the Capitol Center for the Arts to revive the theater.

They also allowed a portion of the sign to extend above the roof plate and to be 318 square feet when the normal length is 42 square feet. Duprey argued that the variances were needed to maximize the visibility of the sign and would recall the historic nature of the old theater’s sign.

All talked out

The ZBA began its meeting facing 15 items of discussion. It ended up tackling five, with the other appointments pushed to a special meeting next Wednesday.

Pushed items include an effort to turn the site of St. Peter’s Church into a “pocket neighborhood” of 10 units of residential housing, as well as a proposal to bring a charter school to the Steeplegate Mall.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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