WESTPORT — Along with approving a recall initiative, passing a record high operating budget and saying “no” to craft cannabis co-ops, annual Town Meeting last week made moves to promote the town’s picturesque qualities.
Town Meeting approved a bylaw that will fine those who steal beach rocks and vegetation from town beaches, as well as an update to the town’s solar bylaw.
The solar bylaw update was designed to regulate large- and small-scale solar arrays in residential and agricultural areas for the purpose of maintaining the town’s rural character, according to Planning Board Chairman James Whitin.
Whitin noted that the town adopted a bylaw in 2013. Since then, eight large solar arrays have been approved by the Planning Board, as well as a handful of smaller ones.
Some of the projects have drawn criticism from neighbors and abutters in residential areas. Others have argued that there is a need of renewable energy and people should be happy with all of these projects.
Such polarizing remarks took Town Meeting floor. One resident claimed that town authorities were trying to make solar arrays “invisible.” One resident proposed that solar array projects should only call for the clearing of one acre of woodlands, as opposed to the maximum 16 acres, which voters ultimately approved last week,
“These changes are designed to strengthen the regulations and give the board more oversight in the review process,” Whitin said. “It increases the setbacks from property lines and street lines. It redefines what can be done in the steaback area. It imposes great restrictions on buffer zones on abutting properties and scenic vistas.”
With the approval last week, solar arrays will now be placed 100 feet from abutting areas and from wetlands and 250 feet from streets.
Beach Committee members Sean Leach drew some comedic moments on Town Meeting floor when he displayed pictures of people taking beach rocks, and also went over some of the excuses for why people are taking rocks, especially from the rocky East Beach.
Leach said this new bylaw will fine people $250 if caught taking vegetation and rocks from town beaches. He said signs, cameras, and police patrols will be used to enforce it.
Leach said excuses run the gamut from those that claim buying rocks are too expensive, they are local, to material needed for a child’s science project.
Leach said winter berries and other vegetation are also taken and become staples of Christmas decor.
Leach said this new bylaw is not designed to punish youngsters who take a souvenir shell or two. But, it is designed to stop landscapers and cheap homeowners from taking truck loads or rocks as part of a cost-effective landscaping project.
“When I see landscapers filling up the back of dump trucks, it gets a little disturbing what is going on. … It has almost gotten completely out of control,” Leach to Town Meeting voters.