HOPKINTON — The Planning Board will hold a public informational meeting on Wednesday to give residents an opportunity to learn about — and comment on — the master plan for a sprawling commercial solar energy project proposed for Palmer’s Circle.
Dubbed “Stone Ridge at Hopkinton,” the proposal calls for the construction of a 100-acre solar array on a 252-acre property.
The developer, RI-95 LLC, purchased the land from the Mashantucket Pequot tribal nation in March 2019 for $750,000. Company principal Walter Manning, a Warwick attorney, has argued that because the parcel is already zoned commercial special, the proposed project is permitted by right, and Hopkinton Town Solicitor Kevin McAllister has concurred.
In addition to the solar array, the plans call for the construction of a 50,000-square foot building, the exact purpose of which has not been specified.
The property is heavily wooded and includes numerous wetlands, but it also contains another important feature: Narragansett Trail.
Completed in 1936, the historic trail winds for 22 miles through Rhode Island and continues into Connecticut. Kerry Robinson, trails chairwoman for the Narragansett Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, said if the plans are approved as submitted, solar panels would be built right on top of the trail, cutting it off as it passes through the Coon Hill section.
“It would render it obsolete, as far as I can understand it,” Robinson said. “If they’re not willing to make any type of concession for the trail, if they’re not willing to work with us to either preserve the existing path in some way or allow for some slight modification to it so it doesn’t stray too far from that area, we would like to work with them if were can … We would like them to acknowledge it and have some respect for it.”
Hopkinton Conservation Commission chairman Harvey Buford is working with the AMC, the National Park Service and the Tomaquag Museum to develop a Narragansett Trail crossing to take hikers over Interstate 95, and was one of several concerned residents who spoke at the hearing in February.
“Several of us from the restoration project spoke at the pre-application meeting for the solar development in February,” he said. “We pointed out the need to continue access along Narragansett Trail on Coon Hill as well as to conserve the natural and cultural context. I am deeply disappointed in the applicant seeking to throw us under the bus."
Planning Board chairman Alfred DiOrio said the project, if built as proposed, will be massive.
"It’s just huge by any standard,” he said. “So, I would expect the Planning Board to be appropriately cautious as it moves the project forward.”
Despite the wooded buffers described in the plan, at least one abutter has opposed the project.
“There are lots of concerns,” DiOrio said. “Concerns from abutters, concerns from the folks associated with the trail system. There’s going to be stormwater. There’s the issue of the commercial building. That has to be nailed down, a little bit more definitively that what we’ve seen so far.”
Town Planner James Lamphere has recommended that the project undergo an independent, or peer review by Crossman Engineering.
“I suggested that a peer review be undertaken by Crossman and so, if that’s ordered by the Planning Board, that’s going to take some time for Crossman to do their review on that and at some point, they’ll come back to the Planning Board with Crossman’s comments in hand and we’ll take it from there,” he said.
Robinson said that in addition to the Narragansett Trail, there were many features on the property worth preserving.
“It’s a very historic, a very significant area of the Narragansett Trail on Coon Hill because of the cultural sites in that area,” she said. “There’s a massive number of stone walls, cellar holes and ceremonial stone landscapes that would all be just completely obliterated.”
The informational meeting will take place during Wednesday’s Planning Board meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. Information on how to join the remote meeting is available on the Hopkinton website at http://www.hopkintonri.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/10-7-20-PB-Agenda-1.pdf.