Building Season Brings Busy Slate

            At its very busy June 5 meeting, Rochester’s Planning Board continued until June 25 a request for a one-year extension of the Special Permit for the Braley Hill North solar facility over concerns that the project has already gotten more than one extension already.

            The applicant’s representative, Attorney Gregory Sampson, explained the request is due to delays in finalizing the interconnection agreements with Eversource that have led to extension requests for all four Rochester projects he represents, the others being Cushman Road, Snipatuit Pond and Featherbed Lane.

            Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson complained the project has already been granted an extension of the Special Permit it earned in July 2020.

            Town Planner Nancy Durfee explained later that Braley Hill North received a permit valid for three years but requiring that construction start in two years. The applicant asked for its first extension on June 23, 2023.

            “Where do we draw the line?” board member John DiMaggio asked. He said it is not the Planning Board’s responsibility if Eversource didn’t do their job efficiently enough.

            Board member Chris Silveira noted stormwater runoff and other such conditions could be changing at the Braley Hill Road site. “Any updates we should know about?” he asked.

            Johnson noted, “The facility could be built tomorrow and left off the grid.” Sampson responded that a solar facility off the grid would have trouble getting funding for construction.

            Johnson said he was concerned about the escrow and decommissioning bonds that the applicant, Sullivan & Worcester, LLC, has paid as permit conditions. These fees will have to be increased as interest rates go up, he said. “We won’t grant the extension without a proper bond,” he said.

            As he motioned the Continuance, Johnson said he will consult with the town’s consulting engineer Ken Motta to review what the new bond numbers will be.

            The Planning Board also continued to June 11 its site plan review hearing for Marion resident Mark Briggs’ plan to construct two buildings to store and repair collectible automobiles, trucks and other motor vehicles and a private hobby barn on New Bedford Road. But the board hinted it is leaning toward approval.

            Engineering consultant Bill Madden began the hearing by noting the applicant has no objections to the special conditions set by the town’s peer review engineer, Motta, and the board quickly approved the waivers to bylaw regulations that Briggs was requesting.

            The board then learned the biggest delaying factor to full project approval could be the Historic District Commission’s demands regarding its perimeter fencing. Briggs’ attorney Karla Chaffee entered the hearing midway through to report that the commission, which was holding its hearing on the project at the same time, had granted the project a Certificate of Appropriateness but did so with a condition she found objectionable, she said. The commission does not want the solid, stockade fence Briggs has proposed on the cemetery border to the property but one set 25 feet back from the street line with slates providing 25% visibility of the facilities behind it.

            Chafee said she may appeal that condition, as it will change the design plan that the Zoning Board of Appeals had already approved and the Planning Board was being asked to approve. The change might be considered major and reignite the entire process, but she and Mark Briggs said they wanted the Planning Board’s decision soon, so the construction of the project could begin within this building season.

            “That fencing has always been on that plan, “Briggs said, clearly frustrated.”Now a stockade fence isn’t good enough?”

            Johnson sided with Briggs and Chaffee. “I think a 25-percent visibility fence will be more of an eyesore,” he said. “The (Historic District) Commission doesn’t want a large mass of a fence there. But if you ‘meander it’ around the edge of your property, it’s not such a ‘mass.’”

            Johnson noted the Planning Board will consider the fencing issue a minor change not requiring a new public hearing.

            The board then approved Johnson’s motion to continue the hearing to June 11 to receive Motta’s review of Madden’s response letter. Tuesday’s meeting was also meant to review the opinion from Town Counsel and invite the Historic District Commission to discuss the fence issue further.

            The next topic also led to a lengthy discussion. The Planning Board critically reviewed the Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision regarding East Over Farms, 131 Hiller Road, to overturn a Notice of Violation and Cease Order for the use of an office and activities not allowed in a Residential/Agricultural District filed by Building Commissioner Paul Boucher.

            Johnson said what concerns him is that five or six businesses lacking the proper permits are being added to that site. He noted the proposals are not just the wellness center, the photographer and facials practitioner mentioned at the ZBA but also a market, an ice cream stand and a wedding-and-concert venue.

            He said he is planning to soon get together with Town Counsel, the building inspector, the Board of Health and the ZBA to discuss what should happen next. “They will have to go for a site-plan-review application,” Johnson said. “They’re free to do whatever they want over there. But it has to be done according to a procedure. We will report back to you Tuesday night (June 11).”

            In other action, the board signed the decision for the Route 28 storage-facility project proposed by JPF Development.

            The Rochester Planning Board’s next meeting will be held on Tuesday, June 25, at 7:00 pm at Town Hall, 1 Constitution Way.

Rochester’s Planning Board

By Michael J. DeCicco

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