NORTH SMITHFIELD – After their previous decision against the plan was overturned by the Zoning Board of Appeals, members of the North Smithfield Planning Board have recommended preliminary approval of a master plan for construction of a 2.8-megawatt ground-mounted solar system on a vacant lot off of Iron Mine Hill Road – with a long list of stipulations.
Islander Solar is now moving forward with a project to install solar panels on 5.5 acres of a 22-acre parcel owned by Joseph and Sandra Authier.
Planners expressed some frustration with the process. The board originally denied approval of the plan with a 3-2 vote last June, but the developer appealed the decision, and last August, the Zoning Board voted unanimously to overturn the planners’ ruling.
“In order to deny it, you would have to have reason,” explained Planner Mark Carrulo when the project appeared for a fresh public hearing in April. “It cannot be that it’s not in compliance with the comprehensive plan. The Zoning Board determined that it was.”
Zoners also granted the project a special use permit to erect the array in a residential zone, and approved several variances for the development, determining that other requirements originally recommended by planners were not required.
“Some of the waivers that we believed to be necessary, it was determined by the zoning board they were not necessary,” Carrulo said.
Thirteen acres of currently wooded land will be disturbed during construction, according to plans submitted by ESS Group of Waltham, Mass.
Abutter Donald Croteau expressed concerns regarding noise from the transformers, and how the array at 850 Iron Mine Hill Road would affect the view from his lot at 852 Iron Mine.
“I have issues with this,” said Croteau. “It’s going to be very visible.”
Planning Board Chairman Gary Palardy noted that planners had initially determined that wires connecting the array to the larger energy grid should be buried underground in keeping with the town’s ordinance, but zoners ruled that it was not required.
“You could have submitted the plan with it buried underground as required by our ordinance,” Planner Jeff Porter told the group of engineers and lawyers assembled on behalf of the project. “We have it in our regulations for a reason. It’s a moot point, but it’s frustrating that it has come about.”
Attorney Kelley Morris Salvatore said the developer plans to work with neighbors to create acceptable screening. Nautilus US Power Holdco, LLC will own and operate the array, to be surrounded by a chain link fence, under lease agreement with the owners.
“We’ve been very successful with making neighbors happy and that’s what we plan to do,” said Morris Salavatore. “We have no objection to any of the recommended conditions.”
Those conditions include submission of a revised landscape plan and a photo simulation view of the proposed buffer, and development of an emergency response plan. No blasting is expected in connection with the project, and the applicant will consult with the North Smithfield Conservation Commission to create housing platforms and shelter for wildlife.
The developer is expected to come back before the board for final plan review and approval.