Landscaping will help hide large solar panels on Viscount Drive

A ground-mounted solar array installed at 100 Viscount Drive in fall 2016 will be screened from street view, following approval of a landscaping plan by the Planning and Zoning Board at its Aug. 1 meeting.

MSL Group Inc. received unanimous approval for a special permit and coastal management site plan for a revised landscape plan for the 110-unit Island View Park apartment building owned and operated by the Milford Redevelopment and Housing Partnership. The 6.7-acre property is located in the Waterfront Design District.

Attorney John Knuff said MSL is a Milford-based developer of renewable energy projects. Knuff said the Planning and Zoning Office and the Building Department, which issued an electrical permit, approved the solar panels in September 2016.

Knuff said the panels are resulting in “significantly lower electricity rates” for the housing agency, which was formerly known as the Milford Housing Authority. According to the Assessor’s Office, the building uses electrical heat.

“My client has agreed to create a substantial landscape buffer around these arrays,” said Knuff.

Landscape architect Bill Kenny said the solar arrays are not within the 100-year flood zone. Kenny said the landscaping would consist of “very substantial evergreen plantings” along Viscount Drive and Monroe Street that would be 12-to-14-foot-tall spruce trees.

“It will help to break up the view for the residents of the community,” said Kenny.

Along the southern end of the property, he said native flowering shrubs would be planted, and maintained at a height of four to five feet. Kenny said these native plantings would benefit wildlife.

Attorney Christopher Cody, representing the housing agency, presented a letter from Anthony J. Vasiliou, Milford Redevelopment and Housing Partnership executive director and secretary of the corporation. In the letter, Vasiliou indicated the partnership would use the savings from the solar panels to fund other energy efficiency projects, such as low-flow toilets and programmable thermostats. Vasiliou wrote that energy savings are projected to exceed $750,000 over a 20-year period.

According to Cody, the federal Housing and Urban Development agency will reimburse the Milford Redevelopment and Housing Partnership based on prior electricity usage. He said the partnership plans $3 million in energy efficiency improvements across all its properties. He said the housing authority has already installed solar arrays on the roof at its DeMaio Drive property.

Cody said the panels could not be installed on the roof at Viscount Drive due to existing equipment already on the roof. Since the panels were installed on the lawn instead, he said the agency wanted to buffer the view by using landscaping.

The sole person to speak in opposition to the arrays was Michael Liebelt of 94 Monroe St., who lives across the street and up the hill from the arrays. Liebelt said he was surprised the city would allow a solar array mounted at grade in a residential area that receives many passersby.

“I look down on the solar panels every day. I think it’s kind of an eyesore,” said Liebelt.

Liebelt said he thinks there are safety concerns having solar panels in an accessible area, and suggested installing a fence to protect people from coming in contact with the panels. He also expressed concern about vehicles going down the “very steep slope” next to the panels.

In response, Knuff said the buffer is intended to shield the view of the panels, and said fencing is included as part of the landscaping plan.

“You can touch the panels and there is no danger,” said Knuff. “We are doing our best to screen the arrays from the views of the neighbors.”

Cody said the city Public Works Department would be responsible for installing a guardrail and said, “We have made that request.”