Neighbors question solar OK

BRANDON — The Public Service Board (PSB) has approved a Brandon couple’s application to install a solar array on their Mount Pleasant neighborhood property.
Jim and Karen Emerson received a Certificate of Public Good on Jan. 28 to install a 10-foot-by-12-foot solar array at their home on Prospect Street, but an appeal is not out of the question.
The approval comes after abutting and nearby landowners in the Mount Pleasant housing community expressed concerns and overall disapproval of the plan at a pre-hearing conference on Dec. 16 in Brandon. Most complaints centered on the aesthetics of the array, which some neighbors said was not in keeping with the area’s surroundings, and the affect the project would have on property values.
They also said the array violates the community’s property covenants, a strict set of restrictions and conditions in place since the Mount Pleasant neighborhood was established in 1967. But the PSB is beholden to state statute and its own set of rules and guidelines, so the covenants of a housing development or even the local zoning ordinance are irrelevant in PSB decisions.
The Emersons said the installation of the array is merely the next logical step in trying to reduce their private electricity consumption. They have no plans to sell the electricity generated by the array back to Central Vermont Public Service Corp.
Homeowner Anne Bransfield lives next door to the Emersons and argued at the pre-hearing conference against the solar array, saying she felt a roof-mounted system would be much more in keeping with the neighborhood surroundings.
“I am very disappointed with this outcome,” Bransfield said in an e-mailed statement. “While I support the use of solar power, I believe a roof-mounted system, in this instance, would have been FAR more acceptable in this rural residential context. I know many of our neighbors agree with me on this. We continue to have serious concerns regarding property values, aesthetics, glare and this apparent abrogation of the long-standing Mount Pleasant covenant — a decades-old agreement about neighborhood land use.”
Bransfield said the turnout at the site visit and the pre-hearing conference illustrated the level of opposition to the project.
“I hope the Emersons will be gracious enough to respect the neighbors’ wishes in terms of doing everything possible to create effective visual buffers to diminish the negative visual impact of this project on our neighborhood,” Bransfield wrote.
Plantings are proposed to shield the array from neighbors, although it will take time for the trees and shrubs to grow.
In its decision, the PSB acknowledged neighbors’ concerns about the array and said it received comments from abutting landowners regarding the aesthetic impact of the project. However, PSB regulations state that “parties with objections or concerns must make a showing that the application raises a significant issue with respect to one or more substantive criteria applicable to the proposed net metering system.”
The board ruled for the project despite the objections raised related to aesthetics based on the board’s specific evaluation process, saying the neighbors did not prove that the array would raise a significant issue aesthetically. However, based on the board’s parameters, a case could be made on appeal.
The PSB follows a two-part test regarding “undue adverse impact on aesthetics and scenic or natural beauty.”
To have such an impact, a project must be out of character with its natural surroundings, which is determined by evaluating “the surroundings, compatibility of the project’s design with those surroundings … visibility of the project and the impact of the project on open space.”
Once a determination of adverse effect has been reached, then the board must determine if the adverse effect is “undue” based on one of the following parameters:
• Does the project violate a clear, written community standard intended to preserve the aesthetics of scenic beauty of the area?
• Have the applicants failed to take generally available mitigating steps which a reasonable person would take to improve the harmony of the project with its surroundings?
• Does the project offend the sensibilities of the average person? Is it offensive of shocking because it is out of character with its surroundings or significantly diminishes the scenic qualities of the area?
The PSB determined that the Emersons’ array is relatively small compared to the size of their house and others in the neighborhood, and noted that it will be located only seven feet from their house. The board said those factors will at least partially block the view of the project from some neighboring homes.
“Thus, we conclude that the neighboring landowners have not shown that the project is out of character with its surroundings and, consequently, have not shown that the project raises a significant issue with respect to adverse aesthetic impacts.”
The board added that even if it had determined that the neighbors had made a case for adverse aesthetic impacts, they did not show that the impact would be unduly adverse.
“The neighboring landowners have not identified any community standards that the project might violate,” the board wrote in its decision.
Anne Bransfield was asked if she plans to appeal the PSB’s decision.
“I don’t want to comment on that at this time,” she said.
Lee Kahrs is at [email protected].

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