Three-year old lawsuit still blocking plans for solar landfill in Amherst

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AMHERST — A lawsuit related to placing solar arrays on the former landfill on Belchertown Road continues to stymie the project, nearly three years after it was first announced.

The Land Court litigation is one of 10 lawsuits involving the town that have been filed or remained active within the past year.

Town Manager John Musante said Tuesday that the objective remains the same as when he announced plans to bring the 4.75-megawatt solar project to the 53-acre site in March 2011: to work with BlueWave Capital of Boston to install the photovoltaic panels.

BlueWave, Musante said, is still committed to the project, though it is possible the length of the lawsuit will require adjustments to the 25-year power supply agreement as the marketplace changes.

“We think we negotiated a thorough and competitive agreement,” Musante said.

Until the lawsuit is settled, Musante said he is talking with neighbors about buffering and screening, setbacks and other concepts that he hopes will make them more open to the project.

Under the latest order from Land Court, the town and the plaintiffs have until Sept. 30 to file motions for summary judgment.

Musante updated the Select Board this week on the status of lawsuits and told members the town is spending less on its legal cases, based on a report from town attorney Kopelman and Paige.

“It’s fewer pages than it used to be,” Musante said. “That’s good.”

Musante budgeted $110,000 for legal expenses this year. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, the town spent $117,896, and in fiscal year 2012 it spent $174,287.

Though the solar lawsuit remains active, two other lawsuits were settled.

The most expensive for the town, at $20,510, was the result of Alpha Chi Omega suing the Zoning Board of Appeals following a Dec. 9, 2011, decision. In that decision, the Zoning Board upheld a building commissioner’s cease-and-desist order prohibiting the 38 Nutting Ave. home from being used as a fraternity.

Alpha Chi Omega withdrew its case and requested and obtained a special permit from the Zoning Board for the fraternity use late last year.

The other lawsuit ended when the state’s Land Court upheld a Zoning Board decision to deny a special permit for Pioneer Valley Pizza to construct a new restaurant at 30 Boltwood Walk. The restaurant’s owners had argued that a “constructive grant” to build had been issued. A constructive grant is a legal action based on the argument that no decision had been made by the board about the pizza shop within 90 days of closing its hearing, as required by state law.

The owners have filed no appeal to the Oct. 11 decision, meaning the shop will not be built at the site.

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