HAMPDEN — The Hampden Planning Board conducted a public hearing on Glendale Road Development’s novel solar project. The Feb. 28 hearing was the first of several meetings before the project can be approved.

The board reviewed Glendale Road Development’s proposal that integrates a ground-solar facility and land set aside for small to medium animals to graze. The project would entail a 4.92-megawatt solar facility and integrated pasture at 530 Glendale Rd. if approved.

Ledge Valley Farm, an established agricultural entity already operating at the site, will play a vital role in this unique integration.

According to the company’s filings, the facility would allow sheep, cattle, and chickens to graze, benefiting energy production and farming. The developer must run the gamut of Hampden’s boards in the coming months.

Community members and stakeholders had the opportunity to review detailed information related to the application before the hearing, with documents made available at the town clerk’s office during regular business hours.

Planning Board Chair Madison Pixley opened the hearing, which attracted a sizable audience. Rory Walker outlined the developer’s plans and documentation about the proposed usage and property history.

The Planning Board emphasized its commitment to a comprehensive approval process for new developments, highlighting the importance of adhering to established bylaws and regulations.

During their meeting, members clarified that their primary focus remains on site plan approvals and ensuring proposals align with conservation efforts, stormwater management and building codes.
The board operates within a structured process that includes input from various municipal departments, underscoring the cyclical nature of their review and decision-making.

Board officials pointed out that while their main concern is the project’s environmental and structural integrity, they also consider various other factors brought to their attention during public meetings.
The Conservation Commission and other regulatory bodies play a crucial role in their evaluations. The parcel, encompassing approximately 53 acres, is accessed via an existing gravel driveway and is primarily surrounded by residential zones.

It features a large barn housing livestock, underscoring the site’s ongoing use for agricultural purposes.
Historical topographic maps from 1946 and 1958 confirm the area’s long-standing agricultural usage, with several cleared and maintained fields evident. In the late 1980s, the property expanded its agricultural scope by adding an equestrian trotting track, which includes a gravel loop and an internal field area.

The track’s design incorporates basic drainage solutions directing runoff toward a nearby vegetated wetland, although the site lacks comprehensive stormwater management infrastructure.

Attorney Adam J. Costa, who represented the applicant at the hearing, emphasized the unique regulatory landscape of solar energy projects, subject to state exemptions and local zoning bylaws.

“Solar projects are distinct in their governance, requiring a careful balance between state exemptions and local regulations,” Costa said. He highlighted the importance of understanding the dual nature of solar project approvals, which may involve special permits and by-right approvals depending on the community’s zoning laws.

Costa clarified the application process for board members and the public, underscoring the comprehensive nature of the submitted materials.

“Our goal is to ensure the board and the public are well-informed, facilitating a thorough review process that upholds the highest public health, safety and welfare standards,” he remarked.

Within a residential zoning district, the project site’s historical and current agricultural use aligns with the proposed dual-use concept of the solar project.

The developer intends to focus on environmental sustainability by using existing infrastructure, such as a gravel driveway and horse track parts, to access the solar arrays.

The proposal includes creating three stormwater management basins and reusing an existing drainage system to manage runoff, emphasizing water conservation and minimal environmental disturbance.

The project plans to clear only 10.5 acres for new development, primarily in wooded areas, while installing solar panels in existing fields without significant grading. Minor wetland fillings are planned for infrastructure enhancements, with compensatory wetland replication to maintain ecological balance.

The project proposes narrowing driveways in sensitive zones, erecting a solid fence, and planting significant landscaping for buffering to lessen potential environmental impacts.

Innovative construction techniques like directional boring will minimize ground disturbance during utility installations.

Caleb Scott, founder of United Agrivoltaic North America, said he expects “mob” and rotational grazing to reduce impact on the land.

“Obviously, the animals’ welfare is in the owner’s best interest. And we’re always here for the product’s life, to help with how that looks and in that action plan,” Costa told the board.

The initiative is designed to serve as a model for other communities looking to harness the benefits of renewable energy while preserving and enhancing their agricultural heritage.

Dennis Hohenberger
+ posts