Town gives go-ahead to Zaun Field solar project

Commission OKs permit for installation of panels in school deal with We Energies
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

The Town of Grafton Plan Commission has given the Grafton School District a green light to install a solar field at Zaun Field.

Last month, the commission tabled action on the controversial project, which was opposed by neighbors who fear the installation of large solar panels could diminish their home values.

And last year, the town turned down a similar proposal brought forward by SolarVest Now, a We Energies contractor.

However, the commission on May 6 unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for the project, which will be discussed at a special School Board meeting Monday, May 24.

During the May 6 commission meeting, most of the discussion concerned the creation of a buffer between neighbors and the solar field.

“We looked at all the different options. We want to be good neighbors working with the commission and neighbors,” School Supt. Jeff Nelson said, noting the project will give the district an additional $900,000 in revenue during the next 30 years through a lease with We Energies.

The district has been working with Stantec, the town’s engineering firm, to determine landscaping that will maximize the screening of the solar panels.  

“Most of the ash (trees) will need to be removed immediately due to poor conditions from the emerald ash borer, further diminishing the existing, mature screening on site,” Stantec landscape architect Sarah McDonald said, adding the district and Stantec have considered 174 species of trees for the project.

One resident asked if there will be glare from the solar panels. Nelson said Stantec and the district have been working to minimize the that factor.

Commission members said the updated plans are more comprehensive than previous versions.

At the May 24 meeting, the School Board will ask residents to approve amending a lease with the North Shore United Soccer Club, which uses the field. The Grafton Gladiators youth football program also uses Zaun Field.

Officials said two fields on the south side of Zaun Field are used for soccer and one of the two smaller fields on the north portion is used by the Gladiators. The solar farm will reduce the sports fields by 155,000 square feet.

Nelson said more space is available at the field to accommodate youth sports, and other district property can also be used, including green space at Kennedy Elementary School and Grafton High School,  though those spaces are pegged for future use by other sports teams.

School Board President Paul Lorge said he understands the project is controversial but believes it is in the best interest of the district and taxpayers to complete it.

“This is a difficult project to look at in totality. I have said before that to some degree we’ve got underperforming assets here and, of course, any space where the kids play is a high performing asset,” Lorge said.

“In this case, as funding becomes more scarce and as the referendum encroached on existing green space, changes have to be made and better utilization has to be considered.”

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