Editor's note: Because of space considerations, this guest opinion will not be appear in the print edition of The Westerly Sun.
This letter is in response to Mr. Landolfi’s Guest Opinion that was published online in the Westerly Sun which contained several false and misleading statements about my column on April 26th concerning the paltry financial benefits from industrializing large swaths of Hopkinton with commercial solar projects.
Mr. Landolfi faults my estimate of the potential tax benefits of the Skunk Hill solar project on three main counts: 1) I “conveniently” used the tax assessment of a median household in Hopkinton, rather than the average household assessment; 2) I did not include permitting fees; 3) I divided the projected revenue into the total Hopkinton budget, rather than the portion that is funded with local taxes.
Exclusive of permitting fees, I estimated that the tax benefit to the median household would be equal to $29.37.
Let’s grant Mr. Landolfi all of his objections and use all of the following metrics: 1) current mil rate of $20.07; 2) aggregate current assessment on Hopkinton taxpayers of $17,724,929; 3) average household tax assessment of $233,195; 4) new tangible property tax of $165,600 annually from the Skunk Hill solar panels; 5) one-time permitting fees of $234,820.
These are all Mr. Landolfi’s figures. He also includes real property taxes, but this is not fair since property taxes are already being paid on the property.
At this rate, our average taxpayer pays $4,680.22. If Skunk Hill is approved, his annual tax bill would be reduced by $43.73.
If we amortize the permitting fees of the project over the 30-year useful life of the project — rather than confusing the issue, as Mr. Landolfi does by mixing annual revenues with one-time fees, like so many apples and oranges — this yields an additional average savings of $2.07.
The bottom line is that the average taxpayer would save $45.80 per year, on average, if Skunk Hill is approved — using Mr. Landolfi’s figures — vs. $29.37 per year, using my previous estimate.
I don’t see how that would have any material effect on the typical Hopkinton taxpayer since these ballyhooed savings are a little less than what it costs to fill your car with one tank of gas.
It is noteworthy that Mr. Landolfi, at the end of his article, thanks “all of the department heads” for helping him to compile this data and compute all of this information.
As Mr. Landolfi and town solicitor Kevin McAllister are well aware, I was not so fortunate.
When I called the town tax assessor last November to ask some questions concerning an analysis that she performed for the Town Council on the tax impacts of the Brushy Brook project, she informed me that the town solicitor had advised her not to talk to me. Period.
The solicitor then followed up with an absurd letter informing me that town employees are not obligated to perform any “work” on my behalf.
When I contacted the tax collector in March and April of this year on a similar analysis that she provided on Skunk Hill, which was entered into the hearing record, I got the same treatment.
She refused to speak to me and I received another letter from the town solicitor referring me to his November letter.
The town solicitor has also “advised” the town clerk that I may not have copies of any documents — or even examine any documents in the public hearing record — unless I first provide a formal written request for public records. From what others have told me, it seems that I may have been singled out for this special treatment.
When I published my column in The Sun, Mr. Landolfi, our Town Council president, wrote to me immediately afterward (on April 25th) with the following message:
“Your [sic] in for a treat soon. All of your figures in the paper about the various solar projects are incorrect. I will set the record straight. You will look like a fool as usual. Please continue to forward my replies to your group it gives me free advertising to showcase how much you don’t know.”
When I suggested that Mr. Landolfi simply inform me where I had gone wrong, he refused.
This is the same President Landolfi who adjourned a Town Council meeting on August 20, 2018, on a day when the Council had a very light calendar of business — in the middle of the Public Forum while I was still standing at the lectern — telling me: “You’re all done, Eric.” (See minute 30 of the Council meeting video for this date).
And this is the same President Landolfi who shouted at me to “Sit down!!!” while I was speaking, during the prescribed public comment period, to state officials who had come to Hopkinton to exchange views with town residents on siting for commercial solar projects at a workshop one week later. After Mr. Landolfi’s outburst, the shocked state officials gently asked me to continue, notwithstanding the President’s tirade (see Council meeting video for August 27, 2018 at 1 hour; 49 minutes).
In correspondence that followed the meeting — which was shared with the town council — the state officials thanked me for my participation, assured me that no offense was taken and informed me that they had come to Hopkinton precisely to achieve such an exchange of views and hear our concerns.
On May 9, 2019, my guest opinion published in The Sun stating that Mr. Landolfi and the ardent pro-development faction of the Town Council were busy doubling down on their “Big Lie” that allowing indiscriminate, ad hoc conversion of residential property to commercial use to install industrial solar arrays on a massive scale would actually make any meaningful difference in the town budget, or the annual budget of a typical Hopkinton taxpayer.
One of the things that I noted then was that the seven largest solar proposals alone — all of which Mr. Landolfi has favored — would rezone 1,086 acres of property in residential neighborhoods to commercial zoning. Permanently.
It should be noted that the Town Council (except for Mr. Landolfi) has finally abandoned the convenient fiction that any of these properties will “automatically revert” to residential zoning or that these industrial power plants are actually some form of conservation — or “land banks,” to use the developer’s terminology. The Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that such “automatic zoning reversion” is unlawful, many decades ago.
To put this enormous acreage teed up for rezoning for solar energy into perspective, consider that page 102 of the Hopkinton Comprehensive Plan — approved just over a year ago by the Town Council in February 2018 — shows that the TOTAL amount of commercial space in Hopkinton at that time was just 72 acres.
If the Skunk Hill solar project is approved, this single 172-acre rezoning will increase the total commercial space in Hopkinton by 239%.
If just the seven largest of Mr. Landolfi’s pet projects had been approved — to rezone 1,086 acres of residential property — the commercial property in Hopkinton would increase by 1,508% practically overnight — 15 times the footprint that existed a little over one year ago!
And it is worth noting that it is not the Town of Hopkinton that chooses which properties to rezone, through any coherent planning process. On the contrary, the Council is simply reacting to the random requests of developers in this chaotic fashion.
Mr. Landolfi insists that his support for this radical, virtually spontaneous, blatantly improper and illegal industrialization of the Town of Hopkinton is “consistent” with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and that he has a “mandate” from voters to remake the town in his image because he ran his campaign “as a revenue-raiser.”
But the reverse is true. There is no semblance of any “plan” here, other than the relentless pursuit of a relatively pitiful amount of revenue — at any cost.
Mr. Landolfi and his cohort on the Council have simply ignored the rising protests of their shocked constituents and tried to force them to submit to their “vision” of the future — a vision that almost no one shares with them.
All documents and correspondence referenced above can be accessed here:
Hopkinton Town Council videos:
The writer is a member of Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning.