This is an example of what a solar canopy array over the parking lots at the York Judicial Center on Elm Street in Biddeford could look like. The Biddeford City Council approved a change in the contract zone that will allow such an array, in addition to the solar panels already planned for the roof of the structure. The matter now returns to the Planning Board for further scrutiny. Courtesy Image

BIDDEFORD — The York Judicial Center project underway on Elm Street may become a zero net energy property, with the installation of solar panels at the two parking lots of the court building.

In May, the Biddeford City Council endorsed a proposed amendment to the Contract Zone for the project to allow photovoltaic arrays in the parking lots, in addition to the solar panels already planned for the rooftop. The original plan was for the court property to generate 75 percent of zero net energy, but the plan has now been updated to increase that to 100 percent.

Zero net energy is achieved when the total amount of energy used in the facility on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site, or nearby, according to City Planner Greg Tansley.

The City Council held a first reading of the proposal to change the contract zone July 20 and gave final approval Aug. 3. The solar array project now goes back to the Planning Board for  further scrutiny.

Councilor Doris Ortiz had proposed fencing in the area – a plan that was approved by the council at the first reading,  though some councilors at the time said fencing should be reviewed by the Planning Board, rather than being required.

Ultimately, on Aug. 3, that is what happened.

Ortiz explained at the final reading that she had intended the fencing around the perimeter of the property be complete; the current design apparently leaves a gap.

On  Aug. 3, the council put their seal of approval on the change to the contract zone to allow the solar array with the caveat that the Planning Board  consider fencing.

The change to the contract zone for the 511- 515 Elm St. and 384 Hill St. property where the court building is being constructed was recommended by the Planning Board. In the board’s findings of fact that led to the recommendation that the city allow solar panels over the parking lot, it noted the plan meets all requirements of the existing zone and the contract zone and is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan.

“The Planning Board of the City of Biddeford specifically finds there is a demonstrated need to promote alternative energy sources and the proposed solar arrays will not affect the general intent and purpose of (the) Contract Zone,” the board wrote in its findings.

The York Judicial Center will consolidate the three Maine District Courts, currently located in Biddeford, Springvale, and York, along with the York County Superior Court, which sits at the York County Court House in Alfred.

The new building in Biddeford will be 115,000 square feet and encompass a 34,000-square-foot footprint.

The York Judicial Center is expected to be mostly complete by February 2023, with a view to opening that spring.

The York County Court House building in Alfred is home to the county Registries of Probate and Deeds, the York County Probate Court, the York County District Attorney’s Office, and other county-related functions. The building  is county-owned and will remain open.

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