HOPKINTON — At a special meeting Monday, the Town Council resumed a hearing at the Chariho Middle School on a proposal to build a commercial solar energy facility on property located at Arcadia Road and Lisa Lane.
Atlantic Solar LLC of Providence and Gordon Excavating Inc. of Providence are proposing to build the project in a low-density residential zone and are requesting a comprehensive plan and zoning change to commercial. The landowner is Donald G. Gordon of Pomfret Center, Conn.
Attorney Robert Craven, representing the developers, called his remaining expert witnesses to the stand. At the request of councilor Sylvia Thompson, engineer Alan Benevides pointed out the distances from the solar panels to nearby homes. There are more than 60 abutters, but a home at 22 Lisa Lane would be 276 feet from the nearest panel.
Planning consultant Edwin Pimentel acknowledged that a major concern of neighboring homeowners would be the visual impact of the solar facility and that earthen berms would screen the project from view.
“That’s really the key component to these projects,” he said. “… so when we sat down and we analyzed the potential for visual intrusions, that’s where the berms are going to be placed.”
Pimentel noted that unlike a housing subdivision, a solar facility, which is expected to last for about 25 years, is not a permanent structure.
“It’s not a permanent disturbance of the land,” he said.
Benevides produced a map showing where trees had already been cleared on the properties and where they would be cut.
“On the three parcels that are concerned, anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of the trees that are there now will remain,” he said.
Thompson asked how many trees would be removed and Benevides replied that about 6,700 trees would be cleared on the 47 acres.
When abutting property owners were invited to speak, a long line formed. With one exception — a man who said he supported the project and was prepared to adapt to the change in the neighborhood — the majority of abutters pleaded with council members to deny the zoning change.
Colleen Stephan bought her home at 22 Lisa Lane, the closest house to the proposed array, only a year ago.
“It’s devastating, because I came for a haven and I really love my corner lot, it’s very quiet, and I really love my neighbors,” she said. “I am not anti-solar. I want to make that crystal clear. But, I am against solar development in a residential area.”
A woman who lives on Skunk Hill Road struggled to hold back tears as she told the council that she did not want to look at earthen berms that would replace the farm near her home.
“I can see the red barn,” she said. “I can see the farmer’s house. I don’t want to see a 12-foot-tall berm. I told you I was going to cry. It’s a commercial property in the middle of a residential area. Do you not get that?” she told the council.
The hearing, which did not adjourn until after 10 p.m., was continued to May 13.