WOOD RIVER JCT. — An advisory plan review of a proposed solar energy project ended Tuesday with Philip Damicis, who chairs the Richmond Planning Board, scolding the developer’s attorney for submitting an incomplete and modified application.
The applicant, GD Beaver River I LLC, owned by Green Development of North Kingstown, is requesting a special use permit to allow the construction in a residential zone of a 5.3 - megawatt solar energy system at 172 Beaver River Road. The facility would occupy about half of a 42-acre agricultural property owned by William Stamp III of Cranston.
The property is bordered on the west by Beaver River Road and on the east by the Beaver River, part of the Pawcatuck River watershed, which recently received a Wild and Scenic designation from the federal government.
Zoning official Russell Brown denied the application last year because not all of the facility would be located within 2 miles of an electrical substation. A zoning amendment passed after Brown’s determination requires that solar energy facilities be situated entirely within a 2-mile radius, and the developer has argued that the application preceded the zoning amendment and should be approved on that basis.
In the end, however, the town contended that the developer had missed a 30-day window to appeal Brown's decision. The developer appealed the town’s decision to Rhode Island Superior Court, which sent the case back to the Zoning Board.
The Planning Board had anticipated that by the end of Tuesday's meeting, which took place in the Chariho Middle School auditorium, it would be ready to provide the Zoning Board with an advisory opinion on the solar plan. However, just before the meeting began, the developer presented new information that board members did not have time to read or examine. In addition, an archaeological report, which was not complete in time for the last meeting and required a continuance, was still incomplete.
By the end of the developer’s presentation, which included testimony from several witnesses and lasted nearly an hour, Damicis had run out of patience.
“We had our last meeting, and we were told that we were going to be provided an archaeological historic report and that’s why you wanted the delay,” he told the developer’s attorney, John Mancini. “I thought that we had an entire package in front of us that quite honestly, this board has spent a lot of time reviewing. We had meetings, we spent a lot of time, the public has spent a lot of time, commenting on this and providing letters to us, and you show up tonight with an entirely different presentation. I have a 50-page PowerPoint presentation in front of me with a lot of new information. I’ve got all new consulting information, and quite honestly, I’m insulted and I feel this town’s been insulted by the way you’ve handled this. Why didn’t I receive this two meetings ago? Where was this information?”
Mancini tried to interject but Damicus continued.
“You’re telling me that you’re not even done tonight,” he said. “What you’ve presented tonight is not the whole picture. We’re still going to see a presentation … we’re going to get a brand new plan with a smaller footprint .… This is a volunteer board and we work Saturdays. We work late at night reviewing this stuff. So what I’m asking you is, next time you show up, that packet had better be final and you’d better present everything that you want, otherwise I guarantee that I’m going to ask for a motion and we’re going to make a recommendation based on what we have.”
Mancini conceded that while changes to a development plan should be anticipated during any approval process, the developer could have done a better job of communicating with the board.
“We should have, at the continuances, explained to you what information was going to be delivered to you, why we were asking for additional time and what we were doing with that additional time,” he said. “This is certainly not an effort on this developer’s part to ambush you with information in hopes you miss something and in hopes that you make a decision in a fast-paced manner.”
Watching the developer’s presentation and the testy exchange were members of the Beaver River Valley Community Association. The residents’ group, and the Richmond Historical Society, oppose the project because they say it would alter the historic, rural landscape.
Damicis asked Mancini to provide board members with copies of the archeological story two weeks before the next meeting, which will take place on Oct. 8, and Mancini said he would do his best to comply with the board’s request.
“If there’s substantial information at the next meeting, we will likely will not be able to come up with the option that night until we digest that,” he told Mancini. “It’s just taking a lot more tine and effort that I think it could have, had you been better prepared and presented this a while ago.
Damicis concluded by reminding the developer that the proposed project, which the developer has described as relatively modest, was considered large by Richmond standards.
"For this town, this is large, and if it was in your backyard, it would be extremely large," he said. "The owner lives in Cranston. Well, in Cranston, you can put anything up there and it wouldn't matter. It certainly matters to this town and it certainly matters to the people that are here today."