LAKEVILLE — Irked about the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s hurried plans to install solar canopies over the parking lots at the Lakeville commuter rail station, selectmen have voted to send a letter of complaint to state Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack about the lack of local input on the plan.
Chairman of Selectmen Aaron Burke said at the board’s Oct. 4 meeting that the MBTA’s canopy project will be “a blight” to the local landscape, and town officials should have been consulted on the plans. He also said that the Mass. Dept. of Transportation should have held public hearings to allow town residents and officials to comment on the project.
MassDOT has been installing solar power collector canopies at MBTA stations throughout the state for years. The department sees the solar power revenues as important sources of income to offset operating costs.
Selectmen got wind of the proposed canopy project by hearing that the MBTA was trying to finalize a new PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement with the town to cover the value of the solar panel installation. Private solar developers pay personal property taxes on the value of the solar arrays installed on purchased or rented land.
At the Lakeville station, “the parking lot is surrounded by residential apartments” and a sea of solar panels would hurt the “aesthetics” of the country setting, the chairman of selectman said. “That’s just what everybody living in those apartments wants to look at” instead of green grass and pine trees, he added with thick sarcasm.
The area off Main Street is a state-designated Smart Growth Development overlay district, including the high-density affordable housing apartment complex deemed desirable for state support because of the easy access to mass transit for hundreds of new residents.
At such a densely-used site, a large-scale solar panel installation shouldn’t be forced on a community without a public hearing or any other “local input,” Burke said. “We have some concerns, and we want to set up a meeting” with MassDOT to discuss the project, he said of the letter to be sent to Secretary Pollack.
“We want to make it clear... we don’t want this without some form of due process” by the state agency, Burke added. “The DOT should be a good neighbor and let us know what they are doing.”
Later in the meeting, he suggested asking the Lakeville Building Department to send a cease and desist letter to the state agency to try to put the brakes on the project. That option was the third item on a three-part action plan approved by selectmen.
Selectman John Powderly said he had already complained to State Senator Michael Rodrigues about the MassDOT’s poor communication skills, and the lack of local input or permitting reviews. He also said he was willing to support sending a cease and desist letter if needed to “get the attention” of state officials.
The so-called “Middleboro option” of the plan has the Lakeville facility either being used as a connecting point to the Cape Cod Flyer train, or as “overflow parking” for the new Middleboro commuter station, Burke indicated.
That plan has commuter rail trains running from New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton all passing through Lakeville on the way to the Middleboro station. “If this goes through, we will have more active rail lines than we have now,” said Selectman Mitzi Hollenbeck.