Planning board tackles varied agenda

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The planning board approved the expansion of a gravel pit, reviewed surplus city property and gave its support to amending the zoning ordinance to allow large-scale commercial solar farms at its August meeting last week.

Allen Bouthillier, of Granite State Holdings LLC, received site plan approval to expand his gravel pit to allow commercial operation. Located off Route 110 on a 921-acre parcel of land Bouthillier owns, he has been selling gravel from the pit for both the Route 16 and the Hutchins Street projects under state statute that allows the sale of gravel for municipal purposes.

Representing Bouthillier, Josh McAllister of HEB Engineers, said his client now wants to sell gravel commercially. He said the blast site itself is 4.6 acres and the site is largely surrounded by land owned by Bouthillier.

“It’s actually up in the middle of nowhere,” Bouthillier said. “Nothing is going to change from what we’re doing there now,” he said.

Berlin Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme noted that last year Bouthillier came to the board about using the gravel pit for city projects and the parties agreed he would come back for site plan approval if he wanted to sell gravel commercially. She said the project has already received a required special exception from the zoning board. Laflamme said Bouthillier also has to obtain various permits from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services.

The board approved the site plan and gravel excavation permit, subject to all required federal and state permits. The excavation permit is good for five years and then can be renewed.

Laflamme said the city has been approached at various times by developers interested in constructing a large-scale solar farm. But because the zoning ordinance does not address large-scale solar projects, it is not allowed in Berlin.

She said city staff has been working on an amendment to the ordinance that would allow solar farms in three specific zones: rural residential, industrial/business and Jericho Gateway. Under the proposal, solar farms would be a permitted use in industrial/business zones and allows as a special exception in the other two zones.

She said the three zones were selected as most appropriate because they have the land to accommodate the solar farms, which would likely require 10 to 20 acres. The city allows residential roof top solar panels through the building permit process.

Laflamme said staff wanted feedback from the board especially on allowing large scale solar in the Jericho Gateway zone.

Board Chair Tom McCue said the city already has wind towers. He said he suspected solar farms would look to locate near such facilities because there is already access to the electric grid.

The board gave the amendment its support.

The board continued to review city-owned parcels of land with individual members checking out the various parcels. The parcels are vacant and have come into city ownership through tax deed or abandonment. Once complete, the board will recommend a course of action for each parcel.