BLC wants more information on Franklin Park Zoo solar flowers

The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) met virtually via Zoom on May 26, where they heard a proposal for two Smart Flower solar panel systems at the Franklin Park Zoo, that were proposed to be placed near the Carousel and Butterfly Hollow Exhibit.

“We received some grant funding to demonstrate some renewable energy models here,” said Bob Chabot of Zoo New England. “These solar flowers open in the morning and track the sun throughout the day and close up at night. They get wired up to a nearby electrical panel and back feed the grid for some amount of credit.”

He said that while there is some monetary benefit to having the flowers at the Franklin Park Zoo, it is “not really our intention to generate lots of electricity with this…the idea is to showcase and promote solar power as an alternative energy.”

Chabot explained that he would create a pollinator garden in the ground around each of the flowers, as he believes it “ties together with the surroundings nicely. The theme there is flowers and pollination…”

These solar flowers were already approved and installed at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in the South End. BLC Commissioner David Berarduci called them “whimsical,” and said that he would like to see more context of the zoo site plan so he could better see how the flowers would fit in with the context of their surroundings.

“We’ll have to watch and see; I don’t know how many more of these will want to pop up across the city,” Berarducci said.

“This will grab people’s attention in ways that I don’t think solar panels would,” Chabot said.

BLC Commissioner Brad Walker said that “if the point really of making such an imposition on the landscape with these two objects is educational in a sense or to build an audience for solar power and make people aware of the parks department’s interest in this…I’m. Interested in how you’re going to communicate this information.”

Chabot responded by saying that he has a plan for interpretive panels that explain interpretive the solar flowers do, and he wants them to be “in context and in keeping with the interpretive messaging for the overall area,” which is meant to “educate people in not overly lengthy text,” he said. 

He also said that he is required by the grant foundation to provide signage, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design students have been doing drawings for the pollinator garden already, so he will ensure that “everything has the same look and feel.”

The two flowers are proposed to be close together in area but not right next to each other. Walker wondered if they would have a stronger presence if they were clustered together.

“It feels to me like pairing them in a way would both minimize their disturbance of site and maximize their ability to be noted,” he said. 

“They will have a relationship visually with each other,” Chabot said. “They are relatively close to each other.” He went on to say that he believes the solar flowers fit “within the context of a pollinator flower garden,” and he “thought it would be too much; too cluttery to have bth of them next to each other.”

Berarducci said that the “placement seems to be random,” and “putting two together probably has a bit more of an impact in terms of getting people to pay attention to them.”

Walker was also concerned about the context plan, and he wants to see the flowers shown to scale. “I’m having a lot of trouble understanding how big they are,” he said.

“It’s important to define where and why you’re doing it,” Berarducci said. “Right now, it seems to be a random scatter or two…it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.”

Chabot said he could envision putting both solar flowers in the pollinator garden and expanding the garden. “I’m okay putting them side by side if that’s what the Commission prefers.”

Berarducci said that he would like the BLC to “revisit this in a year to see what the impact was.” He also said he wanted to see a more detailed plan of the garden shape and what the flowers would sit in, as well as an example of the signage. 

“We would like to have you come back to see the new location if you move the upper one closer to the lower one,” Berarducci said.

The BLC voted to continue this propsoal, asking that Chabot come back for another hearing and provide information with a new location for both solar flowers closer together by the Butterfly exhibit. They would also like to see a closer plan view as well as what they look like to scale within the context of the area. Berarducci and Walker also said that they would like the project to come back before the Commission a year after it is approved “to determine if the [solar flowers] were successful.”

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