Town officials met Wednesday with Aiki Farms owner Bob Burns in an effort to resolve a dispute over solar panels at Burns’ farm that the town says are non-conforming, even though Burns had been issued a certificate of compliance.
The meeting was attended by Mayor Fred B. Allyn Jr., Zoning Commission Chairman Eric Treaster, Building Official Randy Dalton and Town Attorney Meredith Diette.
“By and large I think it was very productive,” said Allyn, who organized the meeting. “We were not here to detail mistakes that were made in the past, nor to throw accusations around, but rather to fix the problem.”
Although Burns received a certificate of compliance and certificate of occupancy three years ago when he installed the solar panels, those permits were rescinded after the town discovered that one of the two panels, and also a greenhouse on Burns’ property, were within the 75-foot setback by about 10 feet.
Burns said he was not concerned about the greenhouse, which he described as "not a permanent structure." He said a section or two could be moved to satisfy the setback requirement.
The solar panels, however, are anchored in concrete, and he said the cost to move one has been estimated at $8,000.
Allyn, who served for several years on the Zoning Board of Appeals, said he advised Burns to request a variance for the solar panel on the grounds that placement of the panels was intended to maximize solar collection. Also, there is a septic system on Burns' property that could become compromised if the solar panel were moved much closer in from the road.
Burns later said he is considering the ZBA option, although he said he is not happy about a $350 fee he would need to pay. "Why should I have to pay that?" he asked.
When Burns last appeared before the ZBA is was to request a variance for the greenhouse, but he said the solar panels were also part of the discussion.
If he returns to the ZBA, Burns said he could present a letter from Ledge Light Health District addressing the septic system issue. He also would ask Mystic Solar, the company that installed the solar panels, to document that they were situated to achieve maximum solar collection.
Another option would be for Burns to do nothing.
Burns said Treaster mentioned at Wednesday's meeting that if no legal action is taken against the panels for three years, they would become a legal non-conforming use. “I think I might just go that way,” he said.
Allyn said he called the meeting after comments posted to a recent article on the dispute in Patch overwhelmingly took Burns’ side.
“Clearly the townspeople favor green energy,” Allyn said. “If someone feels solar panels are ugly, they’re entitled to their opinion, but most people seem to feel that pursuing renewable energy sources is important.”