HOPKINTON — The Town Council has approved amendments to its zoning ordinance and comprehensive plan to permit the construction of a solar energy project on an Ashaway gravel bank.
The decision at Monday’s council meeting clears the way for the sale of the 6.6-acre property at 95 High Street by Eminel Holdings LLC of Pawcatuck to Massachusetts solar developer Oak Square Partners. It also ends years of noise complaints and legal wrangling.
The property has been the source of frustration for residents of the Bethel Village neighborhood since 2012, when the town issued a zoning certificate to Eminel Holdings for the storage and screening of sand and gravel on the property, which had not been mined at the site for decades. The gravel bank was permitted as a pre-existing, nonconforming use.
In 2014, Eminel owner Frank Turrisi applied for a special-use permit and an aquifer-protection permit so he could also open a mulch operation at the site. Neighbors fought the proposal and the Zoning Board denied both applications. Abutting property owners have supported the proposed solar array, however, because, they say, it would be clean and quiet.
At Monday’s meeting, council member Sylvia Thompson read the findings of fact that constituted the basis for the approvals.
“The changes proposed will provide benefits to the town, tax revenue to be received from the property as a result of the development of the solar array and that the changes will promote an important local, state and national objective, seeking alternative energy sources that are safe for the environment and the citizens of Hopkinton,” she said.
The council also attached several conditions to its approval of the amendments.
They include ensuring that the amendments will apply only to a solar facility. The property will revert, immediately and automatically, to an RFR 80, or residential, zone when it is no longer used to generate solar energy. The solar panels can occupy no more than 3.4 acres of the 6.6-acre parcel, and the developer will post a $9,970 bond to cover the cost of decommissioning the facility. The fence surrounding the solar array will be raised six inches off the ground to permit the passage of small animals and the town will also restrict the hours for the site preparation and construction of the array.
“Preparation of the site and installation of the solar farm will be done only Monday through Friday from 8 [a.m.] to 5 p.m.,” Thompson said.
The council approved the amendments with councilor Barbara Capalbo, a resident of Bethel Village, recusing.