RICHMOND — As the Richmond Zoning Board prepares to review a developer’s proposal for a solar energy facility at 172 Beaver River Road, the Beaver River Valley Community Association has asked that the area where it would be located be included in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Beaver River Valley Agricultural District runs from Route 138 and along both sides of the Beaver River south to the villages of Kenyon and Shannock on the Pawcatuck River.
GD Richmond Beaver River 1 LLC, owned by Green Development, is requesting a special use permit to build a 5.3-megawatt solar energy system on 27 acres of a 40-acre parcel in the rural, residential zone. One side of the property, owned by William Stamp III of Cranston, lies next to the Beaver River, one of seven rivers in the Wood-Pawcatuck watershed that were recently designated Wild and Scenic by the National Park Service.
The agricultural district has already received a formal determination of eligibility for inclusion in the register from the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The nomination will be made to the Department of the Interior by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.
The Beaver River Valley Community Association has contracted with the Rhode Island Public Archaeology Laboratory to create the nomination papers. Virginia Adams, senior architectural historian with the lab, said the historic significance of the district was not in question.
“It’s already been determined to be historically and architecturally significant,” she said. “So we’re not assessing that. We are simply updating the documentation and preparing the nomination papers to actually nominate it to the national register. It’s been determined eligible.”
Richmond Town Council President Richard Nassaney said he supported the application.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea, because it’s a beautiful plot of land and one of the most scenic drives,” he said. “If you have the opportunity to do it, it’s worth every moment.”
The Richmond Historical Society also supports the initiative.
“We recently had revised our constitution because it hadn’t been touched for over 25 years, and we realized we had to add in there preservation of historical sites, properties and landscapes,” society president Kristen Chambers said. “I know that’s been a goal of the Beaver River community group. It’s a scenic area, farmland. We’re hoping it’s a step toward protecting it. The issue is the solar panels, I’m sure, which is the biggest thing that comes to people’s minds. I think it would be shame for that area to be littered with solar panels. We do need renewable energy but there needs to be some clear thinking about how to site panels.”
Citing incompatibility with Richmond’s comprehensive plan, the Planning Board issued a negative advisory opinion last October on the proposed project, but Green Development has challenged the board’s conclusion in a memorandum to the town.
“Solar facilities are quite typically located in residential districts that are exemplified by a rather rural character, because local ordinances direct said land uses to such areas,” the developer’s document reads. “The associated massing and scale of reasonably sized solar facilities, necessitate some degree of acreage. And, rural communities are typically overwhelmingly zoned residential, with the larger land holdings, more often than not, zoned in the most rural manner possible. It would be extremely difficult to accommodate ground-mounted solar development(s) in rural communities, were they directed to areas outside residentially zoned areas.”
Formed in 2018, the nonprofit Beaver River Valley Community Association has pledged to preserve the rural character of the district. Filling a field with solar panels is not in keeping with that goal, the group argues.
Association founder and treasurer John Peixinho noted that while inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places would not limit the rights of property owners, it would recognize the historic and aesthetic value of the area.
"This is an important acknowledgment, recognition and distinction for this very historic section of Richmond,” he said in a written statement. “Please keep in mind that this designation does not limit property rights or create guidelines for review. Rather, this designation will help to increase awareness of the importance of this area from both a cultural and historic perspective. Ideally, it will help to preserve and protect our shared heritage through increasing awareness of existing and sometimes fragile cultural resources. This area and the adjacent farmsteads are designated by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission as ‘one of the most scenic cultural landscapes in the state.’”
The hearing before the Zoning Board was scheduled to take place on Jan. 27 but the applicant has requested a continuance, which will likely be granted.