The Rochester Planning Board met for their regular meeting on Tuesday, October 9 in Rochester Town Hall. The only public hearing on the agenda for the night was in regard to the site plan review for the proposed ground-mounted solar panel array for the Little Quittacas Pond region of town off North Avenue.
Last week, at the project’s technical review meeting, the plans came under fire because the construction of a drainage swale would extend into the public roadway. TRC Engineering agreed to redesign that part of the plan.
The property on which the proposed array would be located is owned by the City of New Bedford. The array would draw solar power that would be routed to the power grid in order to offset the electricity used by New Bedford’s water department.
“We’ve been looking at this project now for a period of months and we’re very grateful for the many opportunities we’ve had to talk to with the Planning Board and other officials in Rochester, as well as people from the neighborhood. I’m now happy to say we’ve submitted our site plan and we think what we’ve put together here is a design that achieves the purpose and need of our clients, and even more importantly, is a design that’s well suited to the environment where we want to put this project,” said Steve Moffett of TRC Engineering.
The plan calls for slight re-grading of the area, removal of some trees, and the installation of several storm water basins that would maintain all local precipitation within the site.
“There are two wetland systems we’ve identified in the area and we’ve maintained a very wide separation between our project and those resource areas. That’s been confirmed by the Rochester Conservation Commission,” Moffett said.
There is also a proposed berm as part of the project, which would shield abutting residents from seeing the site. Moffett said there are two options for the style of the berm and would let the abutters choose which they felt was best. One would be a plain 12-15 foot earthen berm that would not require maintenance, while the other would be three feet high, planted with native grasses, trees, and shrubs, and would require maintenance.
“I’m wondering why you’re proposing to seed it with grasses that would need to be mowed. It seems counterintuitive to have a solar panel array that requires fossil fuels to be used for maintenance,” said Planning Board member Susan Teal.
Moffett said that part of the original plans suggested planting clover, but the idea had since been abandoned. The main concern was providing landscaping that would also act as erosion control in the event of precipitation.
“My concern is whatever you put there has to be appealing to the neighborhood. I feel as though it should be maintained to some degree so it doesn’t get out of hand,” said Board member Gary Florindo.
“I’m not liking the location of the berm. I think it needs to be pushed back. With the amount of snow coming in, that’s a snow fence,” said Planning Board chairman Arnold Johnson, who felt that it was too close to the edge of the road.
Florindo then suggested that the company mark the dimensions of the berm, followed by another site visit by the Planning Board.
“We don’t want to look at a pile of dirt. We want to look at trees,” said Donald Loader of North Avenue, who said that he had a list of 17 other abutters who were in favor of the shorter berm planted with vegetation.
Johnson then recommended a third option be available in the form of a tiered berm, with a shorter front section near the road that would be planted with trees, and a taller section behind the vegetation to help cut down wind speed through the neighborhood.
The hearing was continued until the November 13 meeting of the Planning Board so the engineers could stake out the dimensions of the berm suggestions.
In other business, the Planning Board voted in favor an Approval Not Required application for the combination of two lots that are part of the Porter Bog property on Hiller Road. No area or frontage changes would occur.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board will be on Tuesday, October 23, 2012, at 7:00 pm at the Town Hall.
By Eric Tripoli