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Work on big solar farm in Amherst set to begin

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 08, 2017

AMHERST — A section of a North Amherst site once envisioned as a hotel and conference center, and later, as an office park, is to become a large solar farm.

A 4.2-megawatt photovoltaic energy facility will soon be put up on 16 of 38 acres of land owned by Bruce Patterson and RKP LLC. The land extends between 324 Montague Road west toward the duck ponds on Sunderland Road.

The special permit for the project was approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals in August, Senior Planner Brandon Toponce said.

Nexamp, Inc., operating as Amherst Renewables LLC and Montague Road Solar, intends to put 221 modules on the portion of the property zoned as a professional research park. With the appeal period ending last month, and the Conservation Commission completing its review of the site, Toponce said work can likely begin.

Planning Director Christine Brestrup said in an email that it will be the town’s first solar project that is considered to be an independent “principal use” under town zoning.

Two other large solar projects — one at Atkins Farms Country Market in South Amherst and the other on the Hampshire College campus along West Bay Road — are considered “accessory use” arrays because they serve existing buildings, rather than generating energy production independent of any designated building as their principal use.

If and when the town moves forward with a solar project on the newer capped landfill on Belchertown Road, that would also be considered a principal use energy facility.

In 1999, the University of Massachusetts proposed a hotel and conference center for the site, but a rezoning attempt at Town Meeting failed. In 2010, former town manager Larry Shaffer sought to bring a project with up to 500,000 square feet of office space to the Patterson land. That project never advanced beyond a conceptual stage.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.