On Wednesday night, Town Meeting Members approved funding of $3.4 million for solar canopies and systems for the new police station. The vote was overwhelming, with 144 yes and only 5 no votes. The funding will cover probable costs for parking canopies, rooftop solar panels, battery storage, and related underground work. The project continues Lexington’s forward progress towards achieving net zero for Town buildings as well as the community as a whole.
The Town and stakeholders still need to finalize the ultimate design of the solar canopies. Many months of effort involving multiple town committees resulted in the design presented at Town Meeting. However, some abutters to the proposed solar facilities became aware of the project late in the process, just before Town Meeting began. Abutters voiced concerns that the scale of the proposed canopy, especially its height, was more appropriate for a large shopping mall, not the gateway to historic Lexington. They asked for more time to consider a more “human scale” design.
The Town convened a community meeting in mid-March to review the design and listen to the concerns of abutters. On Tuesday night, Mike Cronin, Director of Public Facilities for the Town, led a second community meeting. Attendees included representatives of multiple town departments, committees, and community stakeholders, including the Select Board, Public Facilities, the Historic Districts Commission, Permanent Building, the Police Department, the Fire Department, multiple abutters, Sustainable Lexington, and the farmer’s market. Mr. Cronin led a discussion of design parameters (e.g. height considerations) and the evolution of the design for the canopies. Abutters presented alternative design ideas. After a session which most agreed was both positive and collaborative, the group committed to working together to refine the design.
At Town Meeting on Wednesday, support for funding the solar project was echoed by most, including the abutters, citing the urgency to address climate challenges, the need to get to net zero, the strong economics of the project, and the benefits of on-site power to the resiliency of the police station.
Ted Page, one of the direct abutters, said that though there had been an issue early on with notice to abutters, “I think we can work together to come up with something town can really be proud of.”
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was an impassioned plea to approve the project by 4th grader Kalea Foo.
“Climate change is already negatively changing Lexington way more than a few solar panels can,” Foo said, responding to concerns about the aesthetics of the solar canopy in the historic town center. “Maybe visitors coming to see our town will want to join our new Green revolution.”
“Seeing the appropriation pass at Town Meeting was a great cumulation of a many-month effort,” Mr. Cronin said. “With the collaboration of town committees, the neighborhood, and other community stakeholders, we are confident we can come to a design that results in a resilient, net-zero police station while providing an aesthetically pleasing asset to Fletcher Park and its neighbors.”
Collaborative design work will continue through further community meetings and engagement efforts. The Historic Districts Commission will have the final say on the design, issuing a Certificate of Appropriateness when the solar project design “is appropriate for or compatible with the preservation or protection of the Historic Districts.”
The debate over the solar canopies for the police station highlights the importance of community engagement in local decision-making. A recent Lexington Observer column recounted some of the challenges of developing solar facilities, including community resistance, which can sometimes be mitigated with early engagement. The Select Board and town staff intend to discuss community engagement and communication issues as well as opportunities for improvement in the very near-term. These issues will become even more prominent as Lexington moves forward with large projects like the new high school in the near future.
Results of other Town Meeting votes can be found here.