Needham’s Push for Solar Power

September 18, 2023
• The Planning Board begins a hard look at whether solar-friendly bylaws are possible.

In April, the Town’s Climate Action Plan Committee made a presentation to the Needham Planning Board, focused on zoning and the permitting process, suggesting where improvements could be made to facilitate the reduction of Green House Gas Emissions in Needham. Following that discussion, the board picked out priority goals, from which they generate proposals for consideration at the May 2024 Town Meeting.

This month, the board has begun to outline what they hope to accomplish, centering on three solar power related initiatives. The first would be to formalize the town’s policies around solar canopies, whether they would be on top of parking lots or structures such as parking garages. They also want to modify the existing rules on the use of solar photovoltaic systems on commercial rooftops. Finally, they seek to accommodate small and medium-sized, ground-based solar installations. An overlay district already exists for large-scale installations.

At their September 5th meeting, members discovered that, despite the tight deadlines for action, they will have to proceed carefully. Not only will their work need to comply with Massachusetts codes, but there remain questions as to whether or not the Board has the right to impose restrictions. Planning Board Chair Adam Block brought up the fact that solar energy systems are protected by the Dover Amendment, which limits the authority of zoning ordinances and by-laws. Legal counsel would need to be brought in early, before any potential changes are finalized. Also facing legal scrutiny are any incentives the board could create in order to encourage developers to incorporate solar power into their designs, such as granting exceptions to building height and area coverage requirements.

Even for the board members, a key component to modifying the bylaws will be coming up with a clear set of definitions, distinguishing the differences between different types of installations, and clarifying what constitutes small, medium and large installations. They will seek technical guidance to break down the size categories, make sure that any restrictions would still allow for adequately sized solar power installations, and consider how large a system would need to be before shifting a potential project from one category to the next. They would also have to determine whether solar installation size limits would change depending on which zoning district the unit would be built in.

The conversation continues Tuesday, when the Board hopes to look what other communities in the Commonwealth have done, and hear from the Needham Building Inspector on the matter.

Also on the Agenda:
Latin-A Group, which runs theLatina Kitchen & Bar is seeking to transfer its permit to Metrowest Dining, who are bringing plans to open a new restaurant in for a Site Plan Review. The new bar and grill would be called “The Common Room”, located at 30 Dedham Avenue.

The board will also hear a potential plan for redeveloping 888 Great Plain Avenue (below left) into a four level mixed-use building (below right). This is the continuation of an informal discussion of the property proposal, which would require rezoning the parcel if the plan were to be pursued.

You can watch the full discussion of solar energy bylaws at the Planning Board’s September 5th meeting here.

The September 19th meeting will air live on the Needham Channel’s Municipal Channel.

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