Fate of Solar Farm Still Cloudy

The Rochester Planning Board closed the public hearing for large-scale solar developer Borrego Solar Systems for its proposed solar project at 453 Rounseville Road at the corner of Mendell Road, and although the project is nearing the finish line and is poised for approval, Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson reminded everyone on February 13 that the project may get approved or it might not – “We don’t know yet.”

Aside from a clerical error on the Mylar plans, Borrego is on track in its progress, with Borrego representative Steve Long telling the board in reference to its peer review engineer’s letter, “I think we’ve addressed every comment.”

Johnson opened it up to the public for one last chance at final comments, which prompted Johnson to disclose some of his thoughts on solar in Rochester.

Abutter Kimberly Bindas of 14 Mendell Road urged the board to review the information packet she submitted pertaining to electromagnetic frequency readings and the risks EMFs have, including childhood leukemia, she said. “It’s something that’s very serious to me,” she told the board. Board member and electrical technician John DiMaggio stated that he would review the information and consider it between then and the next meeting.

Hiller Road resident (and candidate for Board of Selectmen) Cathy Mendoza took the opportunity to voice her support for the residents affected by the proposed solar farm and asked the board to look over at Lakeville and its Board of Selectmen’s intervention in a proposal to install solar panels at the train station.

“We’re bound by our rules and regulations,” said Johnson, “and not a popularity contest.” But that would be something to bring to the selectmen, not the Planning Board, he said.

“We have to be careful when we represent the town when we go to litigation because if we go to litigation, we don’t want to lose on something that we don’t have a purview…”

Mendoza herself recently told the Zoning Board of Appeals that she might file a lawsuit against the town over her appeal of the Planning Board’s Site Plan Review approval for her abutting neighbor Wellspring Farms.

Johnson said that he was actually about to meet with the Selectmen’s Office the next day regarding the Board of Selectmen’s desire to explore the state status of “Green Community” for Rochester. It was the selectmen’s initiative, Johnson said, adding that components to becoming a Green Community often involve “expedited” permitting to solar and wind energy projects.

Planning Board member Ben Bailey punctuated Mendoza’s every other sentence with a question on the relevance to the Planning Board hearing, and after a few more of Bailey’s suggestions to keep to the matter at hand, the back and forth between Mendoza and Johnson ceased.

Another abutter wondered how Rochester could become a Green Community “when it’s covered with black solar panels.”

After some frustrated comments from other abutters, Johnson told them that the board does listen to them.

“And we’ve adjusted this project,” he said, and the project has even been pushed back away from the road as a consequence of abutters’ comments. “We have listened, and we’ve had them make some pretty significant adjustments.”

Planning Board member Gary Florindo added, “I don’t want any of you to think that we’re not concerned … because we are.”

He lamented the fact that, after the struggles that other neighborhoods have endured, including the New Bedford Road residents who turned out to Planning Board meetings in droves for weeks, those neighbors were now not present to support the Rounseville and Mendell Road residents now facing the same.

“Maybe they are backing you,” said Florindo, “but they’re not here to back you. I feel – and I know where you’re coming from, I really do – that’s why when I look at this thing, I’m at a loss right now because there are certain things that we have to do.” It’s the process, he said.

But at the same time, Florindo said, the landowners are the ones coming forward, reaching out to solar developers because that is what they want to do with their land.

“I’m old enough to remember when the farms around here had barbed wire and cows everywhere, and I would rather see the barbed wire and cows,” he said, as opposed to the stockade fences surrounding the once open fields.

“I’m doing the best I can with what I have to do for you people,” Florindo said. “If [the Borrego project] does go through, I’ll be at that site watching, making sure it’s done the way it’s supposed to be done.”

Perhaps, said Johnson, after the 25-year life of the project, the stockade fences will come down and those fields turned solar farms will simply be open fields again.

Johnson said he has considered the petition the residents submitted with 120 signatures.

“We did take the petition into account,” stated Johnson. “The board is still working to look at the solar bylaw that we have currently on the books … to somehow slow these things (solar farm applications) down a little bit.

“Because right now, it’s not like 40B housing,” continued Johnson. “Forty-B can be capped … but there’s no cap on saying the town can handle ‘x’ amount of megawatts and then we can say, okay, we’re done. So we’re working on trying to find some ways. It may not help over [at Rounseville Road], but a town as a whole.… We are trying to look at ways to maybe slow it down. The bylaw is a tough bylaw … and an expensive bylaw (because of high bonds).”

Long told the residents that the landowner approached Borrego, and by looking at the zoning and the rules of Rochester, he has done his best to make the project work for his client.

“This is the hardest bylaw of any,” said Long, referring to other towns in the state he has worked in. “They’ve adjusted and asked for more and we agreed to it. You won’t see it … it’ll be the best it can be – so we should be allowed to do what we want to do with this property.”

Johnson said the board would likely take a vote two meetings from then on March 13 after an initial review of the draft decision on February 27.

Also during the meeting, the board approved Madeleine Monteiro’s request to withdraw her application without prejudice for a Special Permit for a Back Lot at 0 Walnut Plain Road.

The board also approved three Approval Not Required applications for Gerard Lorusso/Edgewood Development for Horse Neck Drive, Box Turtle Drive, and Forbes Road all located at Connet Woods. Johnson said in a past approval, the board had granted the developer the option to shift some lot lines should percolation test concerns arise.

“It doesn’t add or subtract house lots,” Johnsons said. “They’re just exercising their right … to move the lot lines.”

The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for February 27 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

Rochester Planning Board

By Jean Perry


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