Board Groans Over Green Communities

Not everyone on the Rochester Planning Board is ready to jump onto the Green Communities bandwagon, especially not board member Ben Bailey. On the other side of the table you have board member John DeMaggio concerned about the townspeople’s perception of the board seemingly “pushing solar” when a vocal group of residents clearly opposes more solar. But what it comes down to, according to Chairman Arnie Johnson, is that the Planning Board has a job to do – whether or not the members agree that Rochester should be designated a Green Community – and that job is to draft legislation for Town Meeting voters to decide on.

Bailey, the board member most vocally opposed to green energy incentive programs, fidgeted and chewed on his glasses as the board considered which road to take as it drafts legislation to fulfill the Town’s requirements for Green Community status. The two roads diverged in the ‘green’ wood lead to either designating one acre atop the capped landfill for by-right solar, or to creating a solar overlay district, banishing solar array manufacturers or solar energy research facilities to the industrial zone with the medical marijuana and adult-only entertainment.

Town Planner Steve Starrett said a one-acre, 1 megawatt solar array field would fit nicely atop the landfill while qualifying as a legitimate by-right solar district. And as Johnson later pointed out, the Board of Selectmen is interested in fulfilling that scenario, “So that’ll probably happen sometime in the future whether or not we designate that. … It’s not like solar probably won’t end up on there.”

“Maybe we could even get some leverage to power the town barn,” said board member Gary Florindo.

For DeMaggio, he’s not even certain if the Town Meeting is going to go for Rochester becoming a Green Community, so why move forward, … “even though we’re not 100 percent sure that the town is going to go for it?” DeMaggio asked Johnson if he had heard any “rumblings” from the townspeople.

“I haven’t heard anything negative,” said Johnson. “But – well, I have, but I haven’t been out and about in the town. These forums, we’ll see.”

“The whole thing is an abomination,” said Bailey. “I have no support for that, you know that.”

“I do know that,” Johnson said, but the board has to follow the selectmen’s lead, as it is the Board of Selectmen that is driving the Green Communities bus.

DeMaggio said he personally prefers the overlay district in the industrial zone, saying he feels “like a hypocrite pushing for a solar site” while so many residents oppose more solar developments in town.

Florindo suggested the board draft up the two options and present them both to Town Meeting, saying, “You have to have solutions that you can discuss. … If you don’t have anything to discuss, you sit there … trying to figure out what to do with the situation.

“I say look at both of them, myself,” Florindo continued. “You should come up with some information for both sides because, either or, you’re gonna be stuck wondering which way should we go. What harm is it if we touched on both sites?”

“We could do multiple things,” Johnson said. “I see both points, really, I’m with John and with Gary. I do know that the selectmen are interested in pursuing solar up there on the dump site … so if we can check that box off.”

Starrett wasn’t so sure there was enough time to present two options since the board must have a consensus within a fortnight in order to make the public hearing requirements before the Special Town Meeting in November, but Johnson said it could be done.

“One is cut-and-paste out of our solar bylaw, and one is cut-and-paste out of our site plan review bylaw,” said Johnson,

Still DeMaggio was concerned about the townspeople’s perception of the board.

“[The perception] is that we’re pushing this in the other direction and it’s not that way at all,” said DeMaggio. “In this case it’s the selectmen that’s pushing it. Now it may look like were pushing it.”

Starrett asked DeMaggio if he thought the townspeople would prefer to see solar on the dump rather than somewhere else in town, to which DeMaggio replied, “I think people aren’t gonna care. … The people who can’t see aren’t gonna care either way.

“I know I sound very negative here,” continued DeMaggio. “I’m just trying to understand. … I don’t want this to end up costing us.”

Johnson and the board discussed the benefits of the Green Communities Act, including grant money to invest in cost-saving green energy alternatives, plus possible energy cost reductions from a solar array field on the landfill that maybe could generate electricity for Town facilities. And Johnson said he’s relieved that the by-right solar requirement could be easily fulfilled with the just one single acre.

“So that’s not a big deal, especially when you’ve got the dump site up there,” said Johnson.

“Do we have to accept the Green Communities Act?” Florindo asked.

“Nope,” said Johnson. “No, we don’t. That’s an individual vote at Town Meeting, but we have to get ready for it.

“I still don’t know how I’m gonna vote on this,” Johnson said, “but we have some legislation that we’ve been asked to create because that’s one of the parameters of the program.”

There will be two Green Community info sessions on September 27 at the Council on Aging, one at 3:00 pm and one at 7:00 pm.

The Special Town Meeting is scheduled for November 19.

In other matters, Johnson reported that the solar array field at 248 Mattapoisett Road is generating some “trouble,” starting with several piles of stump grinding materials that remained on the site for too long in violation of the board’s conditions. And although those have been removed, Johnson said he still needs a timeline from Clean Energy Collective, the project’s solar developer, on when plantings, seeding, and the access road will be completed.

“And they can’t generate power until then,” said Johnson. “I don’t understand the problem. I mean, we shut them down for three months. … You’d think they’d kind of understand … that we mean it.”

Also during the meeting, the board continued the public hearing for a Special Permit for a Back Lot application for Nancy Fuller, trustee of the Fuller Real Estate Trust, of 356 Neck Road. The board will devise a draft decision in the meantime and take a vote at the next meeting.

The public hearing for the 22-duplex age-restricted housing development proposed for Rounseville Road beside Plumb Corner was again continued until September 11. The applicant for the special permit, REpurpose Properties, requested the continuance.

The board will wait until its next meeting to take a vote on whether or not to recommend that the Board of Selectmen exercise its right of first refusal for 20+ plus acres of Chapter 61B land at 00 Mary’s Pond Road.

The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board will be September 11 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

Rochester Planning Board

By Jean Perry


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