WESTERLY — The Zoning Board of Review unanimously granted special use and aquifer protection overlay district permits for a proposed medical marijuana growing operation and for a solar power array Thursday. Both projects are envisioned for parts of the former Copar Quarries of Westerly site in Bradford.
South County Cultivators Inc. is planning a state-licensed marijuana cultivation operation in an existing storage building on the property on Quarry Road. Rick Comolli, a principal in the company, is a relative of the Comolli family's Westerly Granite Co. Inc., which owns the 108-acre property. The cultivation company was represented by attorney George Comolli, Rick Comolli's uncle.
The board imposed several conditions for its approval of the two permits, most of which incorporate aspects of municipal ordinances and regulations and the state's medical marijuana laws.
George Comolli said the project's low impact was borne out by the absence at the public hearing "of our neighbors who have been very vocal in the past." Neighbors of the Comollis' property engaged in a long-running battle with the family and Copar over Copar's failure to comply with local, state, and federal regulations. The dispute gave rise to lawsuits and a court-sanctioned agreement that limits where on the property quarrying can occur.
The property will continue to be used for low level quarrying conducted by Rawson Materials, a lease holder.
Comolli also informed the board that he had reviewed the cultivation facility's security plans with Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey, who declined to give his approval to the overall concept of the facility because federal law prohibits possession of marijuana. According to Comolli, Lacey did not suggest any additional security measures beyond those envisioned by the company.
Raymond Lueder, a residential property appraiser hired to serve as a consultant by South County Cultivators Inc., testified that the project would not have an adverse effect on residential property values in the neighborhood. "Compared to the existing use it's preferable," he said.
Kearsarge Energy, a Boston-based company, is planning to construct and operate a solar array capable of producing 5.5 million kilowatts of electricity per year, said Dan Voss, senior director for project development with the company. The project has been approved by National Grid and ISO New England, the independent, nonprofit regional power transmission organization. Voss said electricity produced at the site would be subject to a net metering agreement with a municipality or other nonprofit entity.
The array will consist of solar panels, on galvanized steel racks, that will send power to inverters, which Voss said would not produce sound that could be detected at the boundary line of the closest neighboring residential property. The panels will be no more than 10 feet tall at their uppermost edge. The company agreed, as a condition of approval, to plant additional buffer vegetation after the initial year of service if town officials determine it would help make the array less visible from neighboring properties.
The company will post a financial assurance to ensure that it follows through on decommissioning procedures at the end of the life (20 to 30 years) of the project.
George Comolli said the solar project was "seven years in the making. We're trying to find permitted activities which are benign in use" after the problems with Copar.
The solar project is the first one approved under the town's new solar power ordinance, which the Town Council adopted in March.
Zoning Official Nathan Reichart said he and town staff were supportive of both projects.