The Westerly Sun

HOPKINTON — Monday’s Town Council meeting agenda included the final session of a continued hearing on an amendments to the town’s Non-residential Photovoltaic Solar Energy Systems ordinance and a second hearing on a proposal by Atlantic Solar LLC for a project on Main Street. The solar proposal was continued at the applicant’s request, leaving the council to focus instead on the ordinance amendments.

At a Jan. 7 hearing, councilor Sylvia Thompson proposed reducing the limit of land in a residential zone that can be covered by solar panels from 30 acres to 3 acres. The size of the parcel would have to be at least 50 acres. 

The latest version of the ordinance amendment specifies that solar panels can cover the lesser of either 3 percent or 3 acres of a property which has been rezoned from RFR-80 (residential and farming) to commercial. The Planning Board would continue to have the authority to adjust the number of solar pan-els, depending on the specific features of the parcel, as long as the adjustments are consistent with the comprehensive plan. That would make it possible to install greater numbers of pan-els on gravel banks and landfills.

Councilor Barbara Capalbo argued that a maximum number of acres should not be specified in the ordinance.

“If you start this, basically you will be looking at all RFR-80 primary lot sizes in Hopkinton and allowing them to come to the council by right,” she said. “I think it’s a mistake. I think the best thing to do is to approve the PSES [solar ordinance] exactly as we have been doing, because it’s much better than the original so that nothing is allowed by right. 

The council can still say ‘no,’ the council can still make a decision that it is okay on that particular parcel, but you should not allow it in this ordinance by right.”

Town Council President Frank Landolfi said he sup-ported the 3-acre stipulation.

“I’m personally in favor of the top paragraph,” he said. “I need more time to digest Barbara’s eight lines of elimination.”

Thompson maintained that having numbers in the ordinance sent a message to developers that the town was no longer welcoming large solar projects.

“Anyone who looks at this and wants to ask for a re-zone in town of residential to commercial in order to put solar on it, by having this top section where it says ‘the lesser of 3 per-cent or 3 acres,’ it makes it known to them that we’re not looking for huge solar farms anymore.”

With solar panel coverage reduced, Davis said the section pertaining to clearing land for solar projects should also be changed.

“I was going to change the maximum of 40 percent total area of the parcel to be a maximum of 5 acres,” she said. “You don’t need 40 percent [cleared] of a 50-acre parcel if you’re only going to have 3 acres of solar panels.”

During the public comment period, Eric Bibler, who leads the group Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning, said he also supported the 3-acre amendment because it set a specific guideline.

“I heard a lot of comments about avoiding the sense of commercial solar installations being allowed by right on RFR-80 parcels,” he said. “Commercial solar energy installations are a prohibited use on RFR-80 land. That’s been true in the past and that’s going to be true going forward …. So now, if you eliminate all of that, we’re right back where we started, where this is all at the discretion of the Town Council.

“Different councils have different opinions about what’s a good project and what’s a bad project. And what’s really, really discouraging from my standpoint, and I think a large number of people who have signed these petitions — there are three petitions out there now — is that the Planning Board has disapproved the past five proposals and that hasn’t prevented the council from entertaining them and in many cases, as we have already seen, voting for them.”

The council will vote on the amendments at its Jan. 22 meeting. @cynthiadrummon4

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