Solar panels approved for Bedford historic district

Residents of Bedford’s historic district have gotten the go ahead to equip their homes with rooftop solar panels without prior approval, thanks to Tuesday night’s Town Meeting vote.

The controversial proposal to amend town bylaw passed with overwhelming support from the more than 300 voters who attended the special Town Meeting at Bedford High School on Nov. 13. The article passed with a 265-61 vote.

The proposal stemmed from a lawsuit filed by First Parish Church against the town of Bedford after the Historic District Commission denied the church’s request to install solar panels. In August, a Massachusetts Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the church. Deputy Moderator Betsey Anderson told Town Meeting that the matter remains in litigation.

Anderson served as moderator for Article 2 because Town Moderator Cathy Cordes, a member of First Parish, recused herself.

The amended bylaw allows homeowners in the historic district to install rooftop solar panels without receiving permission from the HDC as long as they match the color of the roof, be parallel to the roof’s surface and be set back from the roof’s edges. Also, any wires, pipes or other conduits must be hidden from view.

Hartford Street resident Renu Bostwick, who presented the article, said changing the bylaw removes barriers for people wanting to adopt solar energy. She added that the proposal aligned with both Bedford and state goals to move toward renewable energy and reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.

“I feel privileged to live in this town where we are collectively taking action, where we actively embrace the swift transition to 100 percent renewable energy so that our children’s generation will not have to suffer the consequences of our inaction,” Bostwick said.

 The Board of Selectman, Finance Committee and Planning Board recommended voting in favor of the article, although with split votes in each group.

Great Road resident Alan Long was one of several HDC members who spoke against the article. He said the vote was not about solar energy but about “what we think the center of town should look like.”

“I, for one, take great satisfaction out of seeing all the historic buildings along the Great Road corridor – I imagine you all do too,” Long said. “These buildings say to me that Bedford has a long history, and also we, as residents, are proud of that history and willing to take steps to honor it.”

Long expressed concerns about removing the HDC from discussions about solar panels, including their size, roof coverage and visibility.

Another HDC member, Karen Kalil-Brown of North Road, said the commission was not against solar panels but wanted them “integrated into the historic district in a complementary, aesthetically pleasing manner.” She also said homeowners and the HDC should work together on solutions.

“I believe voting yes for Article 2 sets a very bad precedent for our town, our community and us all working together,” Kalil-Brown said.

For many of those who spoke in favor of Article 2, climate change and solar energy outweighed concerns about the aesthetics of the historic district’s buildings.

“I want to see solar panels on as many roofs as possible,” said Bob Fagan of Bonair Avenue. “So my aesthetic point of view is different from some other views, but that doesn’t make those other points correct.”

A manual count was used to tally the 265-61 vote.

Like all Town Meeting articles, Attorney General Maura Healey must approve the amendments. Some people have questioned whether Healey would accept the article, Bostwick said during her presentation. She said she obtained legal guidance indicating that that the changes had a high chance of receiving approval.


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