WOOD RIVER JCT. — The Hopkinton Town Council has denied an application to amend the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance to allow the construction of a commercial solar array in a residential zone at 336 Woodville Road.
At a special council meeting Monday in the Chariho Middle School auditorium, four council members took less than 15 minutes to vote to to deny the application, with one councilor, Barbara Capalbo, supporting it.
The developers, Clearway Energy Group and Edward Carapezza, proposed a commercial solar array on a 195-acre parcel owned by Carapezza.
There is a house on the property and the zone for that portion of the site would have remained residential, meaning that 51 of the 197 acres would be rezoned for the project. Solar panels would occupy approximately 26, or half, of the 51 acres. The town’s solar energy ordinance, amended in Jan. 2019, limits solar panel coverage to 3 percent or three acres of a property.
The motion to deny the application was introduced by councilor Sylvia Thompson. Council member Sharon Davis said she would support Thompson’s motion based on several factors, including an ongoing dispute between Carapezza and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which has cited Carapezza for altering wetlands on the property.
Davis said she was also concerned about the split zoning that the project would entail.
“Under the current solar ordinance, the proposed site — all 197 acres of it — is eligible for a maximum of three acres of solar panels,” she said. “The applicant’s split zoning proposal would place approximately 26 acres of panels on approximately 52.8 acres of land and leave the remainder as residential. Doing this would mean violating our solar ordinance with the very first project considered under it.”
Council Vice President Scott Bill Hirst said he did not have confidence in Carapezza.
“You have to take into consideration somebody’s track record on environmental violations and things of that nature,” he said. “… I don’t think this in the best interests of Hopkinton. I don’t think the public supports it.”
The developer’s attorney, William Landry, did not attend the meeting. The council waited for him to arrive, delaying the start of the meeting by nearly half an hour, before learning that he had sent another attorney from his firm who had been sitting quietly in the audience and had not introduced himself to the council.
“I’m a little tired of the arrogance and the delays and also the lawyer for Mr. Carapezza being late,” Hirst said. “This Town Council should demand respect, and in addition to that, the people of this town should demand respect.”
In explaining her support for the application, Capalbo said she favored the split zone because only the house would be visible and the solar panels would be hidden from public view. She also noted that the environmental issues could have been resolved.
“These can be addressed and resolved,” she said. “They are not unmanageable or appalling. Humans have done wetlands crossings since before Hannibal crossed the Alps and trees have been cut down for fields, pastures and agriculture since the beginning of time. Our comprehensive plan urges us to find and create more areas for economic development. This is a good fit.”
Council resident Frank Landolfi said he felt compelled to deny the application because it did not comply with the town’s photovoltaic solar energy systems ordinance.
“I supported the amendment to the PSES ordinance limiting the overall exposure to three percent of three acres, whichever’s less, and this was submitted three months after that,” he said. “I’m not willing to go back on my word because I supported that reduction, so I will not support that on those grounds.”
The council also heard an application for comprehensive plan and zoning amendments for another commercial solar project proposed for a residential zone. The hearings, which began in Nov. 2018, were continued five times at the request of the developer.
Atlantic Solar LLC and Atlantic Control Systems Inc., propose to build a 5-megawatt solar array on 29 acres at 0 Main Street. Representatives of the company that would build the project, Energy Development Partners, explained changes that had been made to the project plans since they were presented to the Planning Board, including larger buffers between the facility and abutting houses, one of which is only 60 feet away.
The developers said they had purchased an additional lot in order to increase the size of the buffer, but attorney James Donnelly, representing abutters, objected, arguing that the addition of a fourth lot meant that the plan was therefore new and should be heard as such.
“It has been advertised every single time as three lots, it’s been noticed for three lots and now you’ve got four lots,” he told the council. “You can’t do that, plain and simple. You can ask your [legal] counsel … it’s a different project. That project that’s being presented right now has not yet gone through planning. It has not been advertised. It has not been noticed, and I am 150 percent positive of that, and you all know it too … this is absurd.”
The council requested a site visit, which the developer agreed to arrange, but some members continued to express concerns over the changes in the plan. No future date was set for additional testimony.