Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 14, 2015

MA Land Court Finds Solar Collection Facility Fell into the Definition of Renewable or Alternative Energy Facilities as Defined by Statute

The two consolidated cases at issue both stemmed from the Defendant Hatfield Solar, LLC’s proposed construction of 8,000 + solar collection panels on property in the Town of Hatfield’s Rural Residential district, known and numbered as 45 Chestnut Street in Hatfield. Plaintiffs are the owners of other properties in the Town of Hatfield, seeking to block construction of the solar collection facility in its proposed location. In Land Court Case No. 12 MISC 470612 (“Case 1”), Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment, pursuant to G.L. c. 240, § 14A, concerning the applicability of certain provisions of the Town of Hatfield Zoning By-laws, specifically Use 5.26 in the By-laws’ Section 3 Table of Permitted Uses, to Hatfield Solar’s proposed use of the Property. In Count I of Land Court Case No. 13 MISC 477351 (“Case 2”), Plaintiffs appealed pursuant to G.L. c. 40A, § 17 from a decision of the Hatfield Zoning Board of Appeals which upheld the issuance of a building permit for the solar collection panels on the Property on the grounds that the use is not a permitted use described in Use 5.26, and must be allowed as an exempt use pursuant to G.L. c. 40A, § 3, ¶ 9 (the “ § 3 Solar Provision”). Plaintiffs’ argument was that Hatfield Solar’s solar collection facility falls into one of three renewable or alternative energy uses permitted in the Industrial Districts and that, therefore, the § 3 Solar Provision does not automatically exempt Hatfield Solar’s Project from application of the By-laws. Hatfield Solar argues that its solar collection facility is not a permitted use in any district of the Town and, therefore, must be exempted from zoning regulation pursuant to the § 3 Solar Provision.

Here, the court found that the three types of renewable or alternative energy facilities which a municipality must allow in order to qualify as a green community under the 2008 legislation generally matched the three types of renewable or alternative energy facilities listed under Use 5.26 as allowed by right in the Industrial Districts. Under the statutory language the § 3 Solar Provision, a municipality may reasonably regulate solar energy systems, but cannot prohibit them outright. Therefore, because the Board’s Decision upholding the issuance of the Building Permit was based on the legally incorrect premise that the Project is not regulated under Use 5.26 and was consequently exempt from zoning regulation by the § 3 Solar Provision, the court held that the Plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment under Count I in Case 2, annulling the Board’s Decision.

Duseau v Szawlowski, 2015 WL 59500 (MA Land CT 1/2/2015)

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