Zoning board expects to hear application for solar energy panels at church

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The on-again, off-again public hearing on a proposal to install solar energy panels in the rear parking lot at the Church of St. Ann, 1253 Lawrenceville Road, Lawrence Township, is on again.

The township’s Zoning Board of Adjustment will meet on July 25 at 7 p.m. at the municipal building to consider a request for a use variance being sought by IGS Solar LLC, which plans to install the solar panels.

A public hearing on the application was set for April, but was postponed until May because of a zoning board member’s conflict. The public hearing in May was postponed until July, because of issues regarding proper notice about the meeting.

The application, which the zoning board will consider next week, calls for installing solar panels on the roof of the Church of St. Ann and its Faith Development Center wing. Solar panels would also be installed on a canopy over the parking lot at the rear of the church. The canopy would cover the center of the parking lot.

A use variance is needed because an accessory solar carport is not listed as a permitted use in the Education Government Institution or Residential 4 zones, according to a report prepared by zoning board planning consultants Brian Slaugh and Andrea Malcolm.

The solar carport also does not appear to qualify as an accessory use that is “customarily incidental” to the principal church and educational facility use, the report said.

Solar or photovoltaic energy facilities or structures, such as those proposed by the applicant, have been deemed to be an “inherently beneficial use” under the state’s Municipal Land Use Law.

An inherently beneficial use is one that “serves the zoning purpose of promoting the general welfare” and thus satisfies the positive criteria  for a use variance, the planners’ report said.

At the same time, an applicant must show there will not be an “adverse effect” or “substantially negative impact” on the neighborhood or on the township’s Master Plan and zoning ordinance.