The next open field in Rochester slated for a solar farm is at 0 Old Middleboro Road, and developer Solar MA Project Management, LLC approached the Rochester Planning Board on October 23 to informally discuss the plan.
Pedro Rodriguez, project manager for Seaboard Solar, and Austin Turner, engineer for Bohler Engineering, have been working on a plan for a solar array field at the 140-acre parcel for over a year now, and sought further feedback on the latest plan before the forthcoming application.
Turner said he attended a technical meeting with Town Planner Steve Starrett and a small committee consisting of an engineer and board members last month, and the plan he discussed Tuesday night was an evolved plan based on feedback the committee generated. Turner has also been working closely with Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon on behalf of the Conservation Commission to delineate the wetlands line and establishing the required buffers so the array layout could be proposed.
Turner referred to an ancient way at the site and how he plans to reroute the road at one point around the perimeter of the arrays to maintain access to Old Middleboro Road from Walnut Plain Road.
The layout and arrangement of the arrays presented that night “has science behind it,” said Turner, after working with the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program and its feedback. The arrays will occupy 25-30 acres of the available 140, and, based on Natural Heritage’s input, the arrays were shifted to accommodate a proposed conservation restriction or land donation to the Town of Rochester.
Turner and Rodriguez thought they had a good, conforming configuration worked out until Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson asked about the setbacks from the arrays to the property lines and abutting roadways. Turner said the arrays would be 40 feet from the property line, but, as Johnson promptly pointed out, the solar bylaw amended by Town Meeting in May made the setback 100 feet
“And you need to be 300 feet off Old Middleboro Road, so I think that’s gonna change the layout a little bit,” said Johnson.
The plan that night had the arrays at 100 feet from the road. The access road in the plan was also too narrow at 12 feet, with the new solar bylaw requiring a minimum of 16 feet. Furthermore, Johnson said, according to town counsel, the ancient way cannot be rerouted unless the solar developer’s counsel can show proof that there is no deeded access to the ancient way.
Rodriguez explained that his understanding was that all that was needed was maintaining an access way from Walnut Plain Road to Old Middleboro Road.
“You better have your attorney call ours because we can’t take that plan as it is, based on our opinion,” said Johnson. And with the panels currently placed on two separate lots, an Approval Not Required application would be needed.
As for Natural Heritage, Johnson, said, “We don’t do anything until Natural Heritage rules.”
“We actually have all that together already,” Rodriguez replied.
Still, they might need an amended plan based on the setbacks, said Johnson.
Planning Board member Chris Silveira wondered, if the ancient way was used as frontage for a house constructed nearby, then don’t the panels have to be 300 feet from that public access way?
According to Rodriguez, his attorney said the way was not a public road and not a private road, either, but simply “an ancient way and easement.”
“I think your attorney’s going to have to submit some narrative on that for our counsel to review that,” said Johnson. “I would suggest, before you submit a filing, we’re going to have to have this ancient way thing resolved because it would radically change the layout.”
Starrett pointed out, “You guys have 140 acres. … You have a lot of flexibility.”
However, Turner said, Natural Heritage has specific areas it wants to preserve.
“That 140 acres becomes very small very, very quick,” Turner said.
Rodriguez asked for a printed copy of the bylaw, since it had not yet been physically presented to him.
This would be the first solar project to come before the board since the bylaw was amended in May.
“There may be others,” said Johnson. “There are a few others out there floating around.”
The project may come before the board another time before a formal application submission is made.
In other matters, Johnson made it clear to REpurpose Properties, Inc. representatives that he opposed the latest proposed solution to resolve an ongoing drainage-related property dispute, and called for a joint meeting with the Conservation Commission.
The age-restricted housing development plan proposed for 565 Rounseville Road has been held up by a dispute over an unresolved conservation order of conditions pertaining to the Plumb Corner Mall lot owned by Sophia Giannaros Daras, owner of Plumb Corner Mall.
Johnson vehemently opposed a plan to rectify the problem with an above ground open basin as opposed to an underground system, and disapproved of moving an existing playground in order to sort out that lingering issue.
“I don’t support the idea of … open drainage,” said Johnson. “You need to find another way. … [And] I don’t support moving the playground. I haven’t: I won’t; there’s no need to move that playground. … There’s plenty of property.”
Johnson continued, “If this is the best you’ve got, then I’m out, and Gary [Florindo] doesn’t support the idea of an open basin either, but he’s not here and he asked me to express that.”
Johnson preferred to put the basin underground, and use the existing wetlands for the overflow, which is exactly what the Conservation Commission did not approve.
“My clients want to get [this property sale] done so badly they’ve already signed the settlement agreement even though it’s only in draft form,” said seller Gibbs Bray’s attorney, Peter Paul.
Developer Mike LaCava just wanted to know, “Where do we go form here? What do we do? What do you want us to do so we can just do it?” He said the Conservation Commission has told him numerous times they wouldn’t approve the wetlands overflow option. “We’re kind of going in circles here,” he said.
“At some point, common sense has got to go into this,” said Johnson. After all, for 30 years the flow into the wetlands has gone untreated. Furthermore, Johnson asked, “What happens when you turn the water off, aren’t you changing the ecosystem that you’re trying to protect?”
After further discussion, the board decided to work with the developer on the subdivision plan the best it could in the meantime, and meet with the Conservation Commission to discuss the matter.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, November 7, at 7:00 pm. The board hopes to have its meeting coincide with the Conservation Commission’s scheduled for that evening. The location of the meeting will be determined at a later date.
Rochester Planning Board
By Jean Perry