Developer withdraws solar plan, considers condos for East Ave./Broncos Highway

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BURRILLVILLE – A real estate developer who submitted plans for a 250-kilowatt solar system at the intersection of East Avenue and Broncos Highway withdrew the application this week, with hopes to potentially add housing to the project.

The initial proposal by Lincoln-based Andromeda Real Estate Partners, LLC for the vacant 6.84-acre plot, envisioned ground-mounted panels on .69 acres, with access via a 15-foot-wide gravel road off of East Avenue. A preliminary plan drafted by Insite Engineering Services submitted in the fall would have seen the array built on the west side of the property, along a National Grid easement.

After a public hearing held last month, members of the Burrillville Planning Board requested some alterations to the project site plan, including a change to where the panels would tie in to the larger electrical system.

Now, according to developer Paul Vanasse, the changes have made project too costly to complete on its own.

“It’s been awhile (that) we’ve been playing with this,” Vanasse told members of the Planning Board last week. “Every time we come up with the changes, it’s really coming up to be an economically infeasible project. That’s the bottom line.”

“This project was so tight financially to begin with,” Vanasse added.

Vanasse said his company is considering purchasing an additional abutting 2-acre lot currently owned by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, with hopes to add a residential component to a mixed use project. While the developer did not have an alternative plan to present at the meeting on Monday, March 1, he said his group is considering condos for residents age 55 and over.

“A lot of folks are being priced out of their house, but would like to stay in town,” Vanasse said. “Our goal was not to turn this into a commercial site. There’s a whole host of problems associated with that.”

“I don’t think the solar field is going to be visible at all from Route 102,” he added.

Planning Director Raymond Goff said that project as discussed Monday would require the applicant to get a variance for the village commercial lot, or a change in zoning.

Vanasse said he was hoping withdraw the original plan and gauge the board’s willingness to consider the expanded project.

“We know our hardship is not the board’s problem,” he said.

“He’s looking for which way is the wind blowing as far as the board’s concerned,” explained Goff.

Planners’ reactions were somewhat mixed.

“This is coming at us out of the blue,” said Planning Board Chairman Bruce Ferreira, noting the board had nothing to look at in terms of the scope of the project.

“It’s difficult without so much as a sketch to ask any intelligent questions,” agreed Planner Stephen Foy. “I don’t want them to misread us and have them invest in this based on a positive indication without any idea what we were giving them a positive indication on.”

Planner Dov Pick pointed out that the residential element would create a very different type of plan.

“If you’re talking about kind of clearing the area for development versus what the original plans were for with the solar, that takes on just a whole different meaning, I think, in terms of that clear-cutting,” said Pick.

Planner Ken Raspello indicated a willingness to work with the applicant.

“The developers here and owners have been tremendously forthcoming on this project,” said Raspallo. “Now they’re coming back with the realization that there may be a better use for them as investors as well as for the community.”

Raspallo noted that neighbors in the area would also likely be more inclined toward residential than commercial development.

“I’d put my bet on condos 55 and older,” he said.

Board members asked Vanasse to come back with at least a basic sketch of what the group is considering.

“I think everyone has pretty much stated, we have an open mind, but we need to see a little more,” said Foy.

“Nothing is impossible,” said Ferreira. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

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