BURRILLVILLE – The Burrillville Planning Board gave a positive recommendation on Monday to the master plan for a five-megawatt solar array that could be built on a residential lot on Log Road.
The proposal now heads before the Zoning Board, where developers hope to acquire a land use variance. That board will hold a public hearing on the decision before voting on if the energy system should be allowed in an F5 zone, where such large-scale solar projects are not a permitted use.
But the array could make use of land that currently holds a gravel pit, and on Monday, Oct. 5, planners found the project consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan. The project received a letter of support from the Burrillville Conservation Commission and a vote on the recommendation saw Planner Dov Pick cast the only dissent.
The 53.5 acre property, owned by Dennis Piette, would see a ground-mounted array built on 14.5 acres by Log Road Solar, LLC, of Winchester, Mass., according to a presentation this week by a team acting on behalf of the developer. Solar panels would be surrounded by a 6-foot-high fence, and evergreen trees relocated to create screening, with access established on Log Road.
“Here we have a former gravel bank with areas heavily disturbed already,” said Edward Pimentel, president of Pimentel Consulting, Inc. “It’s in kind of a fish bowl, so you can situate the solar in there.”
“It won’t be impacting any of the surrounding residences,” Pimentel added. “Yes, it’s residentially zoned, but very difficult economically to reuse this for residential purposes. It’s right on point – fiscally – from the comprehensive plan perspective.”
Planners expressed concern about the safety of steep slopes on the property, and Andrew Vardakis of Wood Environmental Engineering said the group is currently evaluating potential solutions.
“Our primary concern is safety and stability of that slope,” said Vardakis, noting the the land has shown little movement over the years.
Planners allowed questions from the public and abutter Russell Rondeau asked if there would be any blasting related to the project, pointing to the ongoing disturbance on Iron Mine Hill Road in neighboring North Smithfield.
“I think a lot of us are going to be sensitive to that,” Rondeau said.
Officials said that there will be no related blasting.
Abutter Paul McDonald requested a tour of the site.
“I would not say I’m opposed to the solar field at the moment, but I would like to know where the boundaries would be, and what kind of buffer we would have,” McDonald said. “A tour would make me feel a lot better about the project.”
Attorney Helen Anthony from Handy Law said the team would be happy to accommodate the request.
“We welcome anyone to come,” Anthony said.
Resident Stephen David said, “I actually think it’s a good idea,” noting his only concern was plans for dust control. “We’ve dealt with the dust there for a long time.”
Board members initially expressed a desire for more detailed plans, but Anthony instead requested a conditional approval, noting that the project is on Zoning Board agenda in November.
Planning Director Ray Goff noted that the board was expected to weigh in on an overall plan, with general, not detailed, development intentions.
“Obviously they haven’t done the full engineering on this site,” Goff said.
The approval came with a long list of conditions including that the developer provide detailed plans for the tree line, the slope, the sight line and the gate on Log Road, along with a property value study, the emergency travel route around site, and a stabilization plan. The recommendation dictates that the final plan shows suitable buffering and allows for no further earth removal.
“We do have a good plan in front of us, and it just needs some items to make it right, and make it right for the abutters,” said Planning Chairman Bruce Ferreira.