HOPKINTON — The Town Council concluded the second night of hearings on an application for a solar project at its Oct. 13 meeting, after hearing additional testimony from the developer, comments from council members and comments from the public.
The applicant submitted a revised plan that calls for a smaller footprint and addresses many of the concerns expressed during the first night of hearings.
Council member Sharon Davis recused herself from both sessions of the hearing after Joelle Rocha, the attorney representing the applicants, questioned her objectivity following comments made by Davis at a Sept. 2 Planning Board meeting on the proposal.
The Comolli Granite Company and Centrica Business Solutions are requesting amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance to permit the construction of a solar array on a property in a residential zone. The 39-acre parcel on Chase Hill Road, abutting the Pawcatuck River, is the former site of an automobile salvage yard and currently operates, on a limited basis, as a gravel bank.
The original application called for two solar arrays, one large and a second smaller array, which would together occupy 7.8 acres. But after some council members and the Hopkinton member of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council voiced concerns about its visibility, project engineer Jason Gold announced that the plan had been revised to eliminate one of the arrays.
“At the last meeting, you had asked us to look at pulling the eastern end of the eastern array further backaway from the Polly Coon Bridge and the Pawcatuck River,” he said. “... We eliminated the entire eastern array and instead extended the western array south, and that pulled the edge of that array nearly 900 feet from the river.”
Gold noted that the new configuration would also result in a smaller fenced area and a 20%, or 2.6-acre, decrease in the limit of disturbance, or the area impacted by the array. Tree clearing would also decrease by one third.
Responding to concerns that the array would mar the view from the river and the bridge, Gold said the new plan would result in the array being hidden from view. An 800-foot wooded buffer would also be preserved to provide additional screening.
“Between being pulled so far away and the topography between the river and the array, as well as from Chase Hill Road, this layout is really tucked deep into the property and you’re not going to be able to see it from any direction,” he said. “It’s going to be a best-kept secret around town.”
There have been no objections from abutting property owners, including the Hopkinton Land Trust, which has voiced support for the new project layout.
Elaine Caldarone, who represents Hopkinton on the Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council, also endorsed the proposed changes.
“Speaking for the river, given the first plan and the second plan, the second plan is far better as far as views from the Pawcatuck River and from the Polly Coon Bridge,” she said.
Conservation Commission chairman Harvey Buford voiced his support for the project, saying it would generate renewable energy while benefiting the town, but councilor Sylvia Thompson said she still had concerns about truck traffic on the narrow road.
“Even if not a single abutter is opposed to this and everybody thinks it’s great, there’s still a problem with the road and I don’t know what the solution is,” she said.
Councilor Capalbo agreed with Thompson.
“The entrance from [route] 216 onto Chase Hill ... is wide and not a problem, but very shortly, within probably half a mile, you do get to the smaller road,” she said.
Rocha repeated her assurance from the previous hearing that the construction period and its incumbent truck traffic would last less than three months.
“This is a road that already has commercial traffic on it,” she said. “That was stated loud and clear at the last hearing. These projects do only take a couple of months to construct.”
Council members approved a motion calling for a decision to be rendered at the Nov. 2 council meeting.