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Sherin and Lodgen successfully represents Bedford’s First Parish Church in its quest to install solar panels

January 31, 2019

Sherin and Lodgen LLP successfully represented pro bono client, First Parish in Bedford, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, in its more than two-year quest to install solar panels on its historic Meetinghouse in Bedford, Massachusetts. The Sherin and Lodgen legal team was led by Sander A. Rikleen and David A. Michel, attorneys in the firm’s Real Estate Litigation Practice.

First Parish in Bedford was established in 1730 and the current Meetinghouse building was erected in 1817. Spearheaded by parishioner Karl Winkler, in 2014 First Parish embarked on a comprehensive program to reduce the church’s greenhouse gas emissions. By insulating the 19th century building and replacing HVAC equipment, the church has already reduced its natural gas consumption by 75%.

The next step was to install solar panels on the church roof in order to sustainably generate most of the church’s electricity on site and further reduce the church’s reliance on natural gas. Although the solar panel proposal complied with the Town of Bedford’s Historical District Commission solar panel installation guidelines, the commission rejected the proposal.

On behalf of First Parish, Sherin and Lodgen appealed the commission’s decision to the Middlesex Superior Court. In August 2018, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the church. The judge concluded that the commission’s denial of the solar panel project was “arbitrary and exceeds its authority,” reversed that denial, and ordered that the project be approved.

The Commission appealed. With the appeal pending, Sherin and Lodgen helped draft a Warrant Article for the Bedford Special Town Meeting to change the Historic District Bylaw to specifically authorize solar panels in the Historic District if certain specified criteria were met. That Bylaw amendment was overwhelmingly approved by Town Meeting in November 2018, after which the Bedford Board of Selectmen voted to withdraw their appeal of the Judgment in favor of First Parish, paving the way for First Parish to proceed with its plans to reduce the building’s carbon footprint as part of its broader work to mitigate the effects of global climate change.

Rikleen said, “Sherin and Lodgen is pleased to have helped First Parish achieve its goal by use of both litigation and the Town Meeting process.”

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