TOWNSEND -- St. John's Parish is one step closer to a new parish center.
At a public hearing Monday night, the Planning Board voted to approve a special building permit for the church to build a new parish center.
The decision was a quick process. The board had already heard from an engineer representing the project at a public hearing Jan. 28. However, the hearing had to be continued for lack of a super-majority of four members. With all members present Monday, the board gave the church their final nod of approval; pending a 20-day appeal period, the church can begin construction.
Pat Balcher, representing the church's building committee, said the next step will be to put the project out to bid for contractors.
The plan is for a 3,430-square-foot, two-story building in the vacant space next to Father Mealy Hall. The location had previously been occupied by a residence, so there is already a pre-existing cut in the sidewalk to provide entry.
The building will replace two temporary trailers that had been erected off Brookline Street. Once the building is complete, the trailers will be removed.
"As soon as we're done with them, they're going to be gone," said Balcher.
The building will be the permanent replacement of the church's previous parish center, which burned down in a fire in January 2012. It will be used for myriad purposes, largely for religious education.
In other business, the board plans to send a letter formally requesting help from the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission in expanding their solar-power bylaw to include stipulations on hydro, geothermal and wind power. John Hume of the MRPC attended the meeting at the request of Planning Board Administrator Jeanne Hollows to offer his technical assistance.
Last fall, the MRPC, with the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, was awarded $188,512 in federal grant funds from the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration to develop plans for siting sources for renewable energy within their regions. With the grant, the MRPC will work with several communities to promote renewable energy. It is already in the process of working with Ashburnham, said Hume.
Although not every community will be working specifically on writing a bylaw, said Hume, "The entire plan is going to encompass the entire Montachusett community, all 22 towns and cities."
The grant will last until June 2014, which, Hume said, will provide ample time to construct a bylaw to bring to Town Meeting.
"It takes some time to put together a good, solid bylaw. You don't want to rush things to Town Meeting with something like this. We want to make sure we do our research, that the i's are dotted, the t's are crossed and all the ducks are in a row," he said.
The goal for the bylaw would be to set town ordinances for residences and commercial properties looking to establish sources of renewable energy. Right now, no such standards are set for things like windmills in Townsend.
"The mere discussion in town might get people to start thinking about it," said Clerk Chris Jones.
Additionally, said Chairman Jeff Peduzzi, it could open up the town to commercial opportunities for companies looking to establish sources of clean energy.
"It might make us more friendly to people who want to come in and do something commercial, if we have bylaws already in place," said Peduzzi.