HOPKINTON — Members of the Planning Board issued a negative advisory opinion Wednesday on an application by the Comolli Granite Company and Centrica Business Solutions to amend the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance from residential to commercial for the construction of a ground-mounted solar array at 0 Chase Hill Road. The property, a former site of an automobile salvage yard, currently includes a quarry, and is considered a brownfield site.
Board chairman Alfred DiOrio, who recused himself from the public hearing because he has done work for the applicant in the past, asked board Vice Chairman Ron Prellwitz to chair the proceedings.
Representing the applicants, attorney Joelle Rocha told the board that the 39-acre property would be ideally suited for a solar array.
“It is a legal, nonconforming use as a junkyard and as a gravel pit, so your ordinance, along with a lot of other communities, this is usually the preferred re-use for those type of sites, along with landfills,” she said.
The proposal calls for the construction of two solar arrays, one of about six acres and a second array occupying about two acres. Applicant George Comolli told the board that a solar array would be the best use of the property.
“It will address many of the concerns of our environment, many of the concerns of our economic system, and most importantly, your comprehensive plan,” he said.
Board member Emily Shumchenia said she opposed the proposed comprehensive plan and zoning amendments because the changes would not be consistent with the comprehensive plan and its goals to protect and preserve natural resources, quality of life and the rural character of the town.
“I’d just like to remind folks, it’s not consistent with economic development goals related to reducing the town’s long term energy costs, increasing the town’s energy independence or creating local jobs,” she said.
The board voted unanimously to issue a negative advisory opinion to the Town Council, which the council can accept of override.
Frontier Road solar proposal continued
After lengthy discussions of decommissioning costs and setbacks, a proposal by Revity Energy LLC for a solar array on 64 acres owned by Hopkinton Investments LLC was continued to the Planning Board’s next meeting. The array would occupy 37 acres of the property, which is located in a manufacturing zone at 15 Frontier Road.
Members had concerns regarding the $343,254 decommissioning bond, asking how it was possible to be certain that it would be sufficient two decades or more from now.
“Even though we all acknowledge that no one knows any of the conditions that will set the stage for what decommissioning will cost in 25 years, we’re going forward with this number, knowing full well that there’s a really good chance that none of the panels can be resold at all, which would increase the decommissioning costs by a few hundred thousand dollars,” Shumchenia said.
“I just worry that we’ve got this fairly inflexible framework here where if anything goes wrong, and we’re all admitting that we’re probably wrong, the town of Hopkinton could be on the hook to front a significant amount of money at the time of decommissioning,” he continued.
Board member Keith Lindelow agreed.
“It’s frustrating for me to sit through all this when we’re starting something that the next generation is going to have to deal with,” he said.
The other sticking point was the applicant’s plan to remove some trees from the setback.
DiOrio said the board was particularly concerned with side of the project facing Maxson Hill Road.
“In the Maxson Hill area, we have a 100-foot vegetated buffer area set forth in the ordinance,” he said. “My suggestion here is the 100-foot vegetated buffer stays as is; there’s no clearing allowed within that area.”
Board members went through each of the conditions for the project, including the preservation of trees in the buffer.
Kerin Browning, the attorney representing Revity Energy, objected the board’s restriction on cutting in the buffer, which, she said, would be necessary to prevent the solar panels from being shaded.
“Our team has put in an enormous amount of effort and work to take the comments we have heard from the board members and square that against the fundamental need of this project to succeed, which is the ability to have panels that don’t have shade on them,” she said.
The discussion of the application will continue at the Planning Board’s Oct. 7 meeting.