HOPKINTON — Members of the Town Council discussed proposed changes to amendments to the town’s solar energy ordinance, paying particular attention to the section that addresses how much of a property in an RFR-80, or residential and farming zone, can be covered by solar panels.
Monday’s hearing was continued from Dec. 17, during which Councilor Sylvia Thompson introduced the idea of reducing the limit of land in a residential zone that can be covered by solar panels from the current 30 acres to 3 acres.
In attendance Monday were members of the Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning, a group formed to oppose the rezoning of residential properties to accommodate industrial solar-energy projects. Members have challenged the council on its willingness to consider approving zoning and comprehensive plan changes despite the recommendations of the Planning Board to reject the proposals.
Thompson presented her proposed amendment, which would apply only to large parcels.
“If the parcel is zoned RFR-80 and the applicant is seeking to rezone the parcel, no more than three acres will be allowed on parcels above 50 acres,” she said.
Thompson also noted that the town had been inundated with solar energy proposals in RFR-80 zones that would require zoning changes to allow them to be built there.
“Proposals can keep coming in for zone [change] requests month after month, year after year,” she said. “Obviously if the council, in six months, is saying ‘no’ to everything, they’re not going want to waste their money. Look at this ordinance. I believe we should make it known that we’re not looking for large solar farms anymore.”
Thompson encountered opposition to her 3-acre-coverage proposal from several council members and Town Solicitor Kevin McAllister.
Councilors Scott Bill Hirst and Sharon Davis said they were against all rezoning for commercial solar projects. Hirst said he was willing to work with the other council members, but Davis said there should be no provision for commercial projects in residential zones.
“You leave that out altogether and say ‘no more RFR-80, period,’” she said. “That’s what the comprehensive plan says.
Council President Frank Landolfi suggested that allowing even 3 acres by right, without having to request zoning changes, would cause even more problems for the town.
“I think it’s a slippery slope myself,” he said.
“I just don’t want to do RFR-80 by right,” she said.
McAllister expressed concerns about establishing any set number of acres of solar panel coverage that would be permitted in a residential zone because of the questionable legality of denying a landowner’s constitutional right to apply for a zoning change.
“Because everybody has a legal right to apply for zoning relief, you can’t say as a matter of fact that you’re going to be denied in every case. That’s a preclusion of pursuing your property rights,” he said.
Despite their objections, council members agreed to support the 3-acre amendment. They will meet again on Jan. 14, which is expected to be the final hearing on the matter.