Solar overload: Two proposals on Mattity Road could leave one family surrounded

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – Six years after buying a home in a quiet, forested area on Mattity Road, Christopher and Deidre Simpkins are on track to see trees cut down on two properties surrounding the house and, they note, much of their privacy lost to make way for solar panels.

The Simpkins’ home abuts the property where developer Anthony DelVicario hopes to erect a nine-megawatt solar farm on an 11-acre parcel of conservation land owned by the Gold family. In requests before the Zoning Board, Delvicario has petitioned to install the ground-mounted commercial array in the residential zone.

It was a project first promoted by the late David Gold before his death last August. After previous negotiations to sell the entire parcel to the town for use as open space failed, Gold began working with the solar developer with hopes to create an agreement that would preserve some of his land for resident use, while still providing the family compensation for their contribution.

The property, which boasts hiking trails and unique historic features including a former piggery, was opened to residents for several months in 2020, just as the project obtained master plan approval from the Planning Board last July.

The Gold family’s 112 acres would be turned over to the town as part of the current proposal before zoners, but an 11 acre parcel, which currently holds a conservation easement, would be leased back to the company for solar energy production for a minimum of 25 years.

The project would require removal of the easement, originally created to protect the land for conservation, as well as a Special Use Permit to build in a water supply protection overlay district and a dimensional variance. The company has proposed moving the conservation restriction to a different portion of the property.

But the Simpkin family home sits directly beside that easement, a fact that Christopher says provided them reassurance that the area would retain its rural character when he first decided to move to town six years ago.

Simpkins attended a hearing for the Gold proposal on Tuesday, Aug. 24 in hopes to speak his piece, but never got the chance before the meeting ended at 10 p.m., and the project was tabled. It is due back for continuation on Tuesday, Oct. 12.

And the day following the August hearing, Simpkins received notice of a second solar project to built on 4.8-acres right across the street.

“We are literally going to be boxed in on either side by solar farms,” Simpkins said in a post on social media. “We purchased this house for its rural forested character, neighbored by conservation land. Everything we liked about this property is being threatened by commercial developments that go well beyond what our town allows. I’m shocked, angry, disappointed, frustrated, tired.”

The second mixed use project, known as Broadcast Hill Estates, would see solar panels installed on a property that currently holds five out-of-use radio towers behind three news houses to be built on Mattity Road.

Remnants of a commercial broadcast radio station launched in the early 1960s, the towers would be removed during construction of the solar farm on a lot on the Burrillville town line. Lines, and the electrical connection point, would be situated in the neighboring town.

The station, originally WLKW radio, later became WALE, before its license was revoked in 2014, and the company eventually filed for bankruptcy.

Paul Vanasse of Andromeda Real Estate Partners purchased the property in 2019, has submitted a plan that would encompass two lots that the developer is asking to subdivide into five, with three new four-bedroom, single-family homes to be built on the northern portion facing the road.

The Planning Board is expected to take up the master plan for the Broadcast Hills project for the first time this week, at its meeting on Thursday, Sept. 9.

For Simpkins, the additional project, right across the street from one already slated to alter the neighborhood, is a sign that town officials need to slow down the process for solar developments and look at the bigger picture.

“These solar applications are being evaluated independently in silos,” Simpkins told NRI NOW. “I think the town needs to take a holistic look at all of the solar projects, including those that are already completed and those at any stage of the application process, and understand how big of an issue it actually is.”

“These solar farms are essentially businesses being placed into residential areas, often in environmentally destructive ways – and it changes the nature and character of those areas,” Simpkins said.

The agenda for the Planning Board’s Thursday night meeting, which includes discussion of the master plan for Broadcast Hills, can be found here.

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