HOPKINTON — The anger that some residents feel over the Town Council’s approvals of commercial solar projects in residential zones boiled over at Monday’s council meeting. Two residents demanded that council President Frank Landolfi resign and police were asked to remove another resident from the podium.
As they have for every recent council meeting, residents packed the council chambers, using the public forum portion of the meeting to question council members.
The most recent target of their anger is a large commercial solar project on 139 acres at 310 Main Street. The current ownership of the project, commonly known as the Maxson Hill project, is unclear, but abutters claim the developer, Green Development, clear-cut the site before receiving all the necessary approvals and removed trees to within 25 feet of neighboring homes, eliminating the promised wooded buffer between the solar facility and the neighbors.
Emily Shumenchenia, who serves as an alternate on the Planning Board, read an email message that she had sent to Town Planner James Lamphere, stating that the building permit for the project had been issued prematurely.
“I was under the impression that solar/building permits could not be used until all components of the project were approved by the Planning Board,” she said, reading the email message. “If that is also true, I believe that the issuance of the building permit prior to the approval of the Planning Board of the project’s reforestation plan completely undermined the authority of the Planning Board and the town. If the building permit was issued by mistake or without the proper authorization, I believe it should be suspended until the Planning Board approves the reforestation plan.”
Landolfi pointed out that the council could not comment of the project, because a group of residents has filed a legal complaint in Superior Court to try and stop it.
“That project is in Superior Court,” he said. “We’re not going to deal with it today, or here. It’s going to be in court.”
Resident Joe Moreau said he had gone to the Maxson Hill site and had documented work taking place outside the permitted operating hours.
“I would like to know what the Town Council and other elected officials are going to do to stop the violations of these time restrictions,” he said.
Landolfi suggested Moreau notify deputy building official Sherri Desjardins. Councilor Sylvia Thompson added that violations could also be reported to the police.
The meeting became more heated when Martin Sheldon, whose Collins Road property abuts the Maxson Hill project, asked council members why they had approved the project. Landolfi and Thompson were members of the previous council that granted the approval.
“You voted yes on this,” he said. “Please tell me how you thought that was good for the town of Hopkinton and the abutters.”
When Landolfi attempted to prevent Sheldon from continuing, he only spoke louder.
“You’ve destroyed this town. You,” he yelled. “It’s disgusting.”
“There is a reason,” Thompson replied. “It’s revenue.”
“You cut down a hundred acres of trees for money?” Sheldon asked.
"Mr. Sheldon, you have to sit down,” Landolfi said, motioning for Police Chief David Palmer to escort Sheldon from the microphone. “We will not talk about 310 Main Street tonight.”
Resident Jean Clemente said she didn’t believe council members fully understood the projects before approving the comprehensive plan and zoning changes that allowed their construction.
“It seems like no homework was done on your part for these solar projects,” she said. “It seemed like you don’t know crap about it and now it’s too late and all these people are suffering.”
Landolfi said he had always responded promptly to residents when they contacted him with questions, but resident Carol Desrosiers accused him of being dismissive of residents’ concerns.
“In light of the Town Council president being completely unwilling to allow and engage the public in topics they raise, I have to say, if you don’t want to represent or are unwilling to represent the people of this town and serve as a true public official, then you should resign,” she said. “You have forgotten that you are in your position to steward the desires of residents you represent, not your own or those of developers.”
At the request of Thompson and councilor Sharon Davis, the council agreed to schedule a workshop to review solar project reforestation and decommissioning, the town’s expected contribution to the Chariho School District and town and state revenues. The workshop will take place at the Dec. 2 Town Council meeting.