standing Hopkinton Town Hall

HOPKINTON — The developer of a proposed solar energy project at 310 Main St. in Ashaway returned to the Planning Board Wednesday with revisions to the plan in response to a report from an engineering firm that was critical of many aspects of the project, particularly its potential environmental impact. 

Despite a recommendation from the Planning Board to deny the application, Rhode Island Renewable Solar Energy LLC received approval from the Town Council for a zoning change from residential to commercial. The amendment was needed for the project to be built on the 85-acre site. 

A group of abutting property owners has filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court in an effort to overturn the council’s initial approval of the zoning change. The complaint by nine homeowners, filed on Nov. 20, argues that the council failed to seek input from the Planning Board, failed to provide notice to neighbors and did not provide proper notice to the public, or hold a public hearing, as required by state law. The suit names members of the Town Council and the owner of the property, Maxson Hill LLC.

As part of its master plan review of the project, the Planning Board requested an independent peer review of the developer’s proposal by Crossman Engineering, which delivered its report on Oct. 30.

“Given the scope of the environmental assessment and the degree to which subject matter sections were addressed, we question whether environmental criteria were covered in 'detail' as indicated in Section 1.1, or that the environmental assessment is ‘exhaustive’ of typical criteria assessed,” the Crossman report said.

“We simply note these two descriptors, as it is our opinion that the natural resource sections of the environmental assessment typically were neither addressed in detail or to exhaustive lengths,” the report said.

John Mancini, the attorney for the developer, told the Planning Board that several changes had been made to the plan in response to the Crossman report. 

“We want to walk the board through the comments made by Crossman Engineering and our response to those comments,” he said.

Project engineer David Russo presented new drawings showing a smaller project footprint, less fragmented wildlife habitat, fewer fenced-in areas and more native plantings. The overall capacity of the project has been reduced from the 11.75 megawatts approved by the Town Council to 10.6 megawatts.

“It also reduced the disturbance by about 16 acres and reduces the amount of tree-clearing by about 14 acres,” Russo said.

Planning Board Chairman Alfred DiOrio said he was pleased with the proposed changes.

“Many of the things that have been sticking in my craw about this project, apparently folks have come to their senses and I’m pleased to see that,” he said.

The developer will meet with Crossman Engineering next week to go over the peer review in detail, and the master plan review will continue on Jan. 2, once board members have had time to go over the proposed changes.