Residents paved the way for a new athletic field, more conservation land, and a municipal solar power installation as well as easing rules on home solar installations with three Town Meeting votes last week.
Amid much clapping and cheering, residents unanimously approved purchase of 12 acres of the Wang property off Bedford Road. The town will purchase the land from the Rural Land Foundation, which (together with the Birches School) bought a 16-acre parcel from the estate of Lorraine Wang. Birches will use four acres including a large house to relocate its school from its current quarters in the Stone Church building. Three of the town’s 12 acres will be used to build a much-needed athletic field while the rest goes into conservation.
The town’s $2 million expenditure—$800,000 for the land plus $1.2 million for athletic field construction—will come from bonding $1.3 million over 15 years, to be repaid with anticipated income from the Community Preservation Act (CPA). Another $500,000 will come from the general balance and $200,000 from Lincoln Youth Soccer (LYS).
CPA funds come from a 3 percent property tax surcharge and a partial match from the state. The fund replenishes annually by about $950,000, so there will still be money left over for other capital projects in coming years.
Cars will access the site only from Bedford Road, though walkers will be able to get there via conservation trails. The town will also get a permanent easement for use of the future Birches School parking lot as well as a bathroom accessible from the field.
LYS and Park and Rec sponsored an engineering study of the town’s athletic fields that confirmed they were in bad shape from overuse and lack of irrigation. “There’s very little topsoil and the field are incredible compacted” to the point that aerators have gotten broken, Parks and Recreation Department Director Dan Pereira said at Town Meeting.
Adding the new field will help somewhat, but the other fields on the school campus will still need help, ideally from installing irrigation. However, given the ongoing drought and other upcoming expenditures, “it’s not a great time to be considering that… we’re under no misconception this is a simple fix,” Pereira said. Park and Rec is working with the Water Commission to investigate solutions such as using reclaimed water, he added.
Solar installation atop landfill
The nine acres of new town conservation land connects two other parcels of existing conservation property but also serves another purpose. It will allow the town to make a “land swap” so some of its transfer station property can be taken out of conservation and turned into a solar photovoltaic facility that could supply as much as half of the town’s publicly used electricity.
The solar installation on 7.1 acres of the capped landfill next to the transfer station could generate 650-980 kilowatts for the town. It’s unclear how much savings that will translate into because the tax credit situation is “in flux right now,” said John Snell, chair of the Green Energy Committee (GEC). Any agreement with a solar installer must be at least revenue neutral for the town, “but we think we can do better than that,” he added.
Although the landfill is “obviously not the crown jewel of Lincoln open space,” said resident Bob Domnitz, “this asset isn’t something we should give away without something coming back to the town… Please make sure the town gets some significant financial benefit from this project.”
The amended bylaw also calls for the town to “devote reasonable efforts” to use the existing driveway from Route 2A rather than a possible new entrance from Mill Street.
Once the town gets formal permission from the state for the land swap, officials will look for a solar developer in the hope of starting construction next year.
Relaxing rules for home solar
Solar installations on private homes will be less restrictive after another Town Meeting bylaw amendment vote. A 2013 change allowed rooftop solar installations but said that they had to have a setback from the roof edges of at least one foot. This requirement made some smaller projects uneconomical by reducing the available roof area “by a fairly significant margin” (44 percent in one case), said GEC member Jim Hutchinson.
The amended bylaw removes that setback requirement and increased the maximum allowed height for ground-mounted solar installation from 10 to 12 feet. The Planning Board may also now grant waivers to the solar installation requirements on a case-by-case basis.