On May 20, 2019, I will be presenting the following solar-related motion and two agenda items to be discussed by the Hopkinton Town Council:
Solar project hearing format
The many myriad solar development projects which have come before us and those which are scheduled to do so, and not to mention the many possible others which people are projecting have brought a greatly increased workload to the town clerk’s office, the Planning Department, the Planning Board, and the members of the council with the need to disseminate and conscientiously review documentation. In addition, this dissemination and review often has to take place under very limited time constraints because the materials and or documents the developer needs to submit is not submitted far enough in advance to allow a more ordered and measured consideration.
This, in my view, leads to four serious problems:
First, giving each proposal due consideration becomes needlessly more difficult — especially if a councilor wishes to do any research of his or her own regarding the project or formulate penetrating questions regarding benefits or pitfalls.
Second, since the developer sensibly wishes to make sure we learn as much as possible of the benefits and details of the project, the actual hearing must be lengthened to allow the developer to present verbally information which would normally be presented in written form.
And third, because of the time used in both the developer’s presentation and questions by the council we often are forced to choose between cutting things short or stretching the hearing out to a second or even a third hearing date. So far, more hearings has been our choice.
This constant extensive use of time leads to a fourth issue. These projects impact the residents of Hopkinton. So far, since I’ve been involved with the council, each project has generated interested citizens — residents — who wish to provide an opinion or points of interest to the council. Some even want to present legal objections. But because of the uncertainty of time generated by how we are currently handling these solar project presentations, the council is forcing these citizens to come to a council meeting, sit through the developer’s long verbal presentation and then not be recognized to speak because of time constraints. I cannot tell you how many residents have complained to me that they have taken time off of work, engaged baby-sitters, lost wages, forgone dinner, prevailed upon their relatives to help them get to and from the council meeting, or undergone other personal inconveniences in order to simply have an opportunity to voice their views — pro or con — or simply ask a question. This does not include the simple act of gathering the required courage to step out in front of a large gathering and no longer be faceless and nameless. The simple palliative “well come back next meeting” does not quell the rage generated.
Therefore, due to the intense emotional strain on our Hopkinton residents, greatly increased workload required by the Town Clerk’s Office, Planning Department, Planning Board, plus due consideration of the information presented by the solar project developers seeking Comprehensive Plan and Zone Changes, I would like to make the following motion regarding the format and scheduling of proposed solar project hearings before the Town Council:
“I move that proposed solar project developer presentations seeking Comprehensive Plan and zone change approvals by the Hopkinton Town Council be limited to one-and-a-half hours and that resident response of abutters and others be limited to one-and-a-half hours. The solar project developer should present written information to the town clerk to be forwarded to the town councilors two weeks in advance of the scheduled public hearing date to allow ample time for the town councilors to review the information and prepare pertinent questions to be discussed during the public hearing. Residents can continue contacting the Town Council via email and phone calls prior to and after the hearing to share their views.”
This will allow each project to be covered in one Town Council meeting and voted on at the following Town Council meeting. To date, there are six projects beyond the Skunk Hill and Arcadia Road/Lisa Lane projects in the pipeline requesting Comprehensive Plan and zone changes. I believe passage of this motion will help to expedite these projects through the public hearing process, reduce the town’s administrative workload, and reduce the emotional strain on our residents while allowing a fair process to all parties.
Town engineer oversight: Although solar projects that are being placed in commercial zoned areas and solar projects that are being built as part of the Farmer’s Viability Ordinance do not come before the Town Council for approval, I think that it is still the responsibility of the Town Council to at least recommend that a town engineer be hired as an independent contractor, reporting to Jim Lamphere of the Planning Department, to work with the developers of these solar projects to ensure that appropriate buffers are maintained when trees are being cut down.
Brainstorming open forum: The Town of Hopkinton is “between a rock and a hard place.” As a result, placing potential solar plants in residential areas in an effort to generate future revenue are being considered despite their disruptive consequences on the community. As one of the residents said, the real problem is the lack of economic development in Hopkinton. I agree with his statement and I would like to propose having a Resident’s Open Forum to discuss/brainstorm possible ways that we can solve this problem other than by changing zoning for solar plants.
Examples of some of the ideas that have been suggested to me or that I have thought of are:
1. Forward a list of our available commercial properties to the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce to be entered into its database. New companies moving into the area often first contact the Chamber for potential places to locate their businesses. They do this to save time and to obtain comparative information for decision making.
2. Contact the RI Economic Development Office regarding current business opportunities in the state pipeline. Lobby for having some of these new businesses locate in Hopkinton with our excellent school system and reasonably priced homes.
3. Research several economic development companies to determine the kinds of projects other than solar that are being undertaken today in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Determine if similar projects would be successful in Hopkinton.
4. There are a number of buildings and other properties in town that can become hosts of businesses compatible with town goals if only our citizens and developers can learn that they exist.
I am sure there are many ideas and suggestions in our community. The point is to become proactive. Instead of waiting for a business to discover Hopkinton, we should be actively marketing our town. We are all Hopkinton residents and we should work together to solve our economic problems. Therefore, I am requesting that the Town Council schedule an Economic Development Brainstorming Open Forum for resident input.
I am looking forward to hearing the residents’ comments on the motion and agenda items on Monday, May 20, 2019.
The writer is a member of the Hopkinton Town Council.