As a Hopkinton resident, I was saddened to read the recent letters to the editor from an abutter to the Brushy Brook project and from councilwoman Barbara Capalbo, a public servant whom I once held in high regard, but whose recent comments and actions are evidence of a profound ignorance, and/or reckless disregard, of applicable laws that have been laid down for the express purpose of protecting the rights of all property owners and residents in Hopkinton.
As the councilwoman knows, but did not mention, the publicly stated purpose of our citizens group, the Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning, is to support the Hopkinton Planning Board’s laudable efforts to defend the integrity of the planning and zoning process, including the town’s Comprehensive Plan, whose paramount goal is to preserve the rural character of Hopkinton.
Our group has now garnered nearly 1,000 signatures on three petitions in opposition to three of the largest recent proposals, including 600 petitioners who have implored the Council simply to accept the Planning Board’s recommendation to deny Brushy Brook (not 400 signatures, as Ms. Capalbo, who received copies of all of the petitions last Monday, incorrectly states).
As Ms. Capalbo is aware, the Hopkinton Planning Board has unanimously disapproved the six most recent applications from industrial solar developers who have requested that the Town Council rezone low-density residential property for commercial use. Yet Ms. Capalbo and the rest of the Town Council have simply ignored the Planning Board, in defiance of the letter and the spirit of state and local zoning statutes and ordinances.
Councilwoman Capalbo's letter, and another letter from John and Martha Orlandi, who are part of a small group of abutters who support the Brushy Brook project because they have become terrified by the alternative of a housing development on the same parcel, are filled with false and misleading statements about the presumed financial benefits of the solar project.
Contrary to the claims of the proponents, who have also circulated wildly inflated estimates of the dire “burden” on the taxpayers that would be imposed through the construction of houses (if any) on the same parcel, tax revenue from the Brushy Brook project will not make a meaningful impact on the budget, and the construction of any housing there will not blow it up.
In the past, Councilwoman Capalbo has condoned, or remained silent about, past and proposed actions of the Town Council that are blatantly illegal. More recently, the councilwoman shocked her colleagues on the Town Council by putting forth a detailed list of financial demands — her infamous “Codicils” — that must be satisfied by the applicant on the Brushy Brook project, Southern Sky Renewable Energy, in order to secure her vote to approve the requested rezoning, without having requested, or received, any authorization from the Town Council to do so.
The councilor then continued to negotiate with the developer to finalize the terms of her financial demands — which include substantial financial payments to the town and to unaffiliated nonprofit agencies for various uses that are entirely unrelated to the project proposal — in a series of ex parte communications through the town solicitor.
This practice is arguably a prima facie case of "contract zoning," which is illegal — a regrettable episode in which Councilor Capalbo literally “went rogue” and took it upon herself to barter with the applicant concerning the price of her vote.
But as any layman can appreciate, even without a law degree, Councilor Capalbo's wheeling and dealing, even if it were not unlawful, is still truly awful. To his credit, at least one member of the council objected — immediately and strenuously — and rightly continues to insist that Councilor Capalbo’s actions have been highly improper.
For the sake of avoiding further damage to the town's reputation, we hope that the council will never be forced to deliberate on Councilwoman Capalbo's "Codicils." But it remains to be seen if any other member of the Town Council will deign to offer her a second for discussion, if the councilor actually proposes an ordinance to extort several hundred thousand dollars from the applicant in this way.
We hope that the councilwoman's colleagues will have the sense to refrain from riding shotgun with Councilwoman Capalbo through such hostile legal territory by supporting such a dubious proposition.
Hopkinton’s future is not made brighter through the clear-cutting of 175 acres to install a 122-acre “sea of glass” in a residential zone.
The writer is a member of Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning.