HOPE VALLEY — At Monday’s hearing on amendments to Hopkinton’s commercial solar ordinance, residents wanted to know whether the new version, which places more stringent restrictions on nonresidential solar developments, would affect several controversial applications currently being considered by the Town Council. Changes to the town’s zoning ordinance and Comprehensive Plan from residential to commercial must be approved to allow those projects to be built. 

Opponents of the proposed projects were disappointed to learn that applications already submitted to the town would not come under the newly tightened ordinance. 

As with previous hearings on solar energy, the number of residents in attendance exceeded the capacity of the council chambers, so the hearing was moved to Hope Valley Elementary School.

In a process that lasted about two-and-a-half hours, council members went through the 11-page document line by line, first changing the language in guidelines pertaining to the percentage of a parcel that can be covered with a solar array.

Councilor Scott Bill Hirst said he could not support the 30 percent coverage limit in the revised ordinance for residential parcels rezoned commercial, because the sizes of residential lots vary widely.

“That’s really ridiculous,” he said. “I think when people have RFR-80 it’s supposed to be rural, farming, residential, and everybody knows that lot sizes vary in RFR-80. In theory, you can have a small lot and give them 30 percent in an RFR-80. That doesn’t make sense at all and I’m definitely for the reduction of that amount.”

Councilor Sylvia Thompson suggested reducing the limit to 3 percent, and Hirst and Councilor Sharon Davis agreed. 

“I’m in favor of 10 percent or less,” Thompson  said. 

Thompson drew applause when she also noted that the ordinance should reflect what residents want. She said, “I think the council recognizes that we need to halt large solar arrays, but we need to come up with language .... It’s clear what we need to do and it’s clear what the townspeople want."

Town Council President Frank Landolfi said he preferred 15 percent, and Councilor Barbara Capalbo favored 10 percent, leaving the issue unresolved.

As they continued to scrutinize the proposed changes, Capalbo urged council members to strike the two sections regarding tribal cultural impacts.

“I would like the whole thing struck, because it’s going to affect anyone’s property when you sell it or if you want to use it for something,” she said.

Another amendment would prohibit all blasting during construction.

Davis suggested requiring a plan that would stipulate which alternative methods the developer intended to use.

“Maybe you should add that a leveling plan must be approved by the Planning Board prior to implementing leveling techniques,” she said. “And also, where it says no blasting will be conducted on the parcel, the question is how will the ground be leveled without blasting? How are you going to know?"

Town Planner James Lamphere told the council that there were ways for developers to get around a no-blasting provision.

“There’s very easy ways if they really want to on their land,” he said. “They can do that before they come before the Planning Board. There's nothing we could really do to stop them, but I would say most developers are not going to want to alter the land any more than they have to because it costs money." 

Council members disagreed on the proposed fine for violating the ordinance. Hirst and others wanted to raise the daily fine from a maximum of $500, but Town Solicitor Kevin McAllister said a higher fine would be difficult to defend in court. The fine will remain a maximum of $500 per day.

In some cases the council has approved zoning changes for solar projects even though the Planning Board recommended that the applications be denied. Members of a citizens group said that the council could avoid agonizing over solar ordinance changes by simply following the Planning Board’s recommendations.

“There’s a very simple way to stop this,” said Joseph Moreau, who has opposed the large Brushy Brook solar proposal. “The Planning Board reviews it, they issue an adverse opinion on this project, it goes to the Town Council, you review it, make sure there aren’t any errors. You reject it, based on the fact that it’s not consistent with our Comprehensive Plan. End of conversation.”

The hearing was continued to Jan. 7.

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