HOPKINTON – The Hopkinton Town Council voted to continue the period for public comment on the controversial zoning and comprehensive plan future land use map amendments that would allow Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy III, LLC to install a solar array in one of Hope Valley’s residential areas.
The public hearing for these amendments opened during the Hopkinton Town Council meeting on June 18, 2018, and since then, the application has been a political hot potato. At the council’s meeting on July 16 alone, 19 residents spoke in opposition to the proposal.
Steve Wiehl, of 11 Old Depot Rd., was the first to speak.
“Just so you kind of get a window on some of our world, about the end of June, I was approached by a neighbor, Joe Moreau, and this issue of the project came up at that point,” said Wiehl. “So, the property that I own with my wife at 11 Old Depot, which we bought as our primary residence four years ago, which was zoned residential, there was a prospective to put a solar project on private land around us, which included the removal of over 7,000 trees, and replacing them with 43,000 solar panels, approximately. We hadn’t known about that.”
Wiehl objected to what he considered to be a distinct lack of transparency exhibited by the town in relation to this developing proposal. He said that only a handful of his neighbors had received any information from the town on the nature of the project and the hearing dates associated with the amendments. “Many of us, we just didn’t know that anything was going on, and we wouldn’t have learned about it had the contents of the letter not been shared with us by other members of our street.”
Joe Moreau spoke next. He was concerned about the conversion of green spaces to commercial sites throughout the town. “Our concerns are not just for residents of Old Depot Road, Sweet Valley Estates, and the surrounding area. These concerns are for the entire town of Hopkinton. Keep Hopkinton green!”
Moreau said that he understood that the Hopkinton Town Council was consistently called to make difficult decisions on behalf of the town, but considered the passage of these amendments to be more detrimental than beneficial. “I know we have to be more concerned about revenue for the town, but at what cost? As parents, we all try to teach our children about values, doing what’s best for others, doing the right thing, regardless of the costs. In my opinion, some Council members are just looking to make dollars for the town. The residents are the town. We’re all part of the town. This guy [the developer] is gonna move on, he’ll collect his checks in Bermuda. We are the residents of the town, as you can see by all the folks here. Our job is to convert, convince, some of you to do the right thing and not change the zoning.”
Sharon Davis, of 100 Cedarwood Lane, also protests the introduction of an additional solar array, especially when, she alleges, the Council has already given the green light to every project that required a zone change that has come down the pipeline. “Four projects required zone changes from RFR-80 to commercial – limited use, solar. When the group [the Hopkinton Planning Board] was asked to give their advice on the projects, they recommended two that contained gravel banks, gave a split decision – or tied, two to two, recommendation on the Alton-Bradford Road Peloquin property, and gave an unfavorable recommendation for the 310 Main St. property, because of the potential negative effects on the wetlands, and the visibility from North Road. The Council passed all four projects.”
Rosemary Theriault, of 23 Fairway Circle, spoke after Davis. She was concerned about the lack of input the citizenry has had on projects that will fundamentally change the character of the town. “I took a walk, maybe a couple of weeks ago, and you can see the changes going in around. There’s this little solar farm that’s gonna be going down the street, and it’s in an open field, and that sort of thing. My concern, and my question, would be – my reason for being here – if you are changing this town, if you are making it something else, why don’t the people in this town have a voice and a vote? Because there’s so many projects going up that it’s going to change the way we live, the way we look at things, and for generations to come.”
Steve Brophy of Cedarwood Lane focused on the ultimate decommissioning process and the impact that the panels would have on the property values of the commercial site’s neighbors. He also expressed his qualms with the project’s developer, who he alleges has been involved in a series of LLCs that have all had their licenses revoked, though Brophy does not claim to know why. He fears that the developer could exploit the town.
Brophy argued that if the LLC is defunct or abandoned, the responsibility of removal would fall on the original property owners. This becomes a problem if the original owner stops paying property taxes. It then becomes incumbent upon the municipality to maintain or dismantle the solar array. “Since this particular developer has a poor track record maintaining an LLC through any extended period of time, I don’t have much confidence that he will be able to develop at all.”
Wayne Suits, Fred Stanley, Eric Bibler, Sherrylyn Cotter, Phil Cotter, Douglas Doe, Paula Moreau, Pat Shimkus, Sylvia Stanley, Tammy Lynn Walsh, Luther Davis, and two other residents also provided the Council with their opposition to the project.
The public hearing will continue into the Hopkinton Town Council meeting on August 7. Before that, there will be a joint workshop between the Hopkinton Planning Board and the Council on June 23, 2018, at 6:30 p.m. to discuss proposed revisions to the Hopkinton Solar Ordinance.