ZBA Gives Harvey's Farm Solar Project Three Stars

The vote was Monday night.

The Westborough Zoning Board of Appeals granted Harvey's Farm LLC's variance request for a ground-mounted photovoltaic farm Monday night.

And then a gentleman said, "Now the crowd goes wild."

The board voted 3-0 to grant the variance, with these conditions: site plan review; at least 100-foot front, side and rear yard setbacks from abutters, including the cemetery; remove the project within 150 days of ending it; give Westborough the right of first refusal to buy electricity from the project; continue current screening abutting the cemetery; and that the variance was for 20 years, the duration of the project developers' lease on the farm site, as presented by the proponents during a Sept. 10 public hearing.

Chairman Jim Johnson said a number of those conditions are consistent with the planning board's proposed ground mounted solar photovoltaic installations zoning bylaw, which voters will decide at the Oct. 15 special town meeting.

Harvey's Farm owner Jim Harvey said the ZBA vote did not surprise him.

"I knew we were bringing a gift to the town, a gift for everybody," he said after the vote at the Forbes Municipal Building.

"It's a win-win. We're the good guys wearing the white hats."

Harvey said he was unsure of the timetable for the project now that he has the variance.

"I'm a little confused about the site plan review, what that's going to entail, and how long that might take before we can get a building permit," he said.

"Time is of the essence, because we have to get the land prepared. I have to plant the grass now."

Project Manager Charles Jenkins said the 20-day appeal process must pass next.

However, Jenkins said Harvey already has planted grass, "because he couldn't wait any longer."

"It's already coming up," Jenkins said.

"It looks beautiful."

Jenkins said he spoke with Town Manager Jim Malloy on Monday about Westborough buying electricity.

"They're under a certain contract right now that they can't get out of. So, we're going to rekindle our discussion early next year."

The project could be generating electricity in January, Jenkins said.

The roughly three megawatt -- about 12,000 to 13,000 solar panels -- project would occupt about 15 acres of Harvey's Farm's estimated 42.5-acres, attorney Adam Braillard told the board on Sept. 10.

Harvey has said he plans to lease the land to the project developers toward paying down his debt on the site, enabling him to leave the farm to his children.

The $10 million ground-mounted photovoltaic farm at 7 Maple Ave. would be designed to generate electricity sufficient to power a town.

Zoning board member Dave Lamothe said the ZBA's recent tour of the site made him "feel much better" about the project.

"It's really not visible. It's out of the way. It's a great use of the land," Lamothe said.

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