HOPKINTON — Members of the Planning Board issued an advisory opinion Wednesday recommending that the Town Council deny an application for comprehensive plan and zoning changes that would permit the construction of a commercial solar energy facility.
James and Karen Cherenzia were requesting the amendments, from residential/farming to commercial special, to accommodate a 13-acre, 2.7 megawatt commercial solar array on a 23.3-acre property at 201 Chase Hill Road, near the new National Grid substation. The project developer is Centrica Solar, part of a British multinational company.
In the application, senior project engineer Jason Gold asserted that the project was permitted under Chapter 246 of the town’s recently amended “Non-Residential Photovoltaic Solar Energy Systems” ordinance. The Planning Board disagreed.
Alfred DiOrio, who chairs the board, said the reason for the board’s unanimous rejection of the application was its inconsistency with the town’s comprehensive plan, the state-mandated document that guides all development and land use decisions.
“If I could distill down the thinking of my colleagues, these applications, now, are entirely focused on the merits of rezoning residential property to this rather vague term, commercial special, for the purpose of solar installations,” he said. “The application itself didn’t even speak to the issue of consistency with the comp plan — didn’t even mention it … These applications are coming in and they’re not really wrestling with the primary concern of the Planning Board, which is consistency or inconsistency with the comp plan.”
The presence of a house on the property was another complicating factor.
“What do we do now when there’s a dwelling on a piece of property, so it’s a residential use, they come in and they want to rezone to commercial special?” DiOrio said. “Now, what happens to the house? Does the house then become a nonconforming use because it’s now in a commercial special zone? This question was not answered.”
Joe Moreau, a member of a residents’ group which opposes residential-to-commercial zoning changes for commercial solar projects, attended the meeting.
“I feel bad for the position that the applicant is in but the bottom line is the attempt to change residential property to commercial,” he said. “To complicate this application, there is a home on the property being lived in. How do you change to commercial with an occupied home on the property?”
Moreau said that many neighbors had turned out for the meeting.
“I was impressed by the large turnout of residents surrounding this property,” Moreau said. “What impresses me at every meeting is the continued support from residents from Old Depot Road, Sweet Valley Estates and now Brushy Brook residents. Those two projects were defeated and residents still come out to support other residents of Hopkinton,” he said.
The attorney representing the developer, Steven Surdut of the law office of George Comolli, declined to comment on the application or the board’s decision.
In a development plan review, the Planning Board approved a pre-application from the Rhode Island Boy Scouts of America’s Camp Yawgoog for several improvement projects at the camp, located in Hope Valley. Some projects will begin this spring and others will get underway after the camp closes for the summer.
Tim McCandless, chief executive officer of the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts of America, said the improvements would provide badly needed updates to facilities, but would preserve the aesthetics and character of the 103-year-old camp.
“This spring, we are replacing a very old log cabin that’s used primarily for staff housing during the summer and for additional uses year round, and it’s outlived its useful life, so we’re tearing it down and putting in a new log cabin that’s more modern and better suited to today’s needs,” he said. “We really want to maintain the aesthetic and the atmosphere that people love about Camp Yawgoog and that we’re known for.”
Another spring project will be the replacement of the shower house at Camp Sandy Beach. When that work is complete, the shower rooms at all three of the camp’s waterfront facilities will have been converted to individual shower stalls with latching doors.
Girls will be attend the camp for the first time this summer, but McCandless said the conversion to individual restroom and shower stalls was planned long before that development.
“This is a project we’d been planning for a couple of years before the new program options for girls were even introduced, but it certainly will aid us with that,” he said.
A major project expected to begin in August, when the summer camp ends, is the replacement of the Three Point dining hall.
“That is our oldest dining hall on the property, our smallest dining hall on the property,” he said. “It’s had several additions over the years since it was built and as a result of multiple additions on top of additions, the layout of the kitchen doesn’t work well. We’re in the design stage, the planning stage right now.”
The Planning Board approved the Camp Yawgoog Improvement Plan and asked administrators to keep Town Planner James Lamphere apprised of the progress of the work.