While the temperatures simmered outside on August 22, the tempers simmered inside the Rochester Council on Aging Center when the Rochester Planning Board held its meeting.
What should have been fine tuning and housekeeping on site plans submitted by Wellspring Farms, as proprietors Jim and Holly Vogel sought to bring closure to the many months of site improvement planning, turned into another airing of long-held grievances by abutter Kathy Mendoza.
Ken Motta of Field Engineering, the peer review consultant, had reviewed the latest iteration of the site plan, ticking off such items as additional fencing, gravel driveways, signage, and handicap parking as ‘in process’ or ‘to be completed’ in the coming weeks.
The Planning Board members seemed quite satisfied with the progress that had been made in satisfying abutter concerns and other issues. But Mendoza remained steadfast in her assertion that her home life has been destroyed by the operation of the experiential therapy clinic the Vogels operate at 42 Hiller Road.
“There’s constant noise from kids screaming,” Mendoza said. Continuing on, she stated, “We have suffered.” The hearing continued in this vein with the Vogels’ counsel George Boerger refuting Mendoza’s comments, including her complaint that the Vogels had “flown under the radar for years” and were now being rewarded.
Chairman Arnold Johnson took umbrage to Mendoza’s comment, saying, “Hold on. This plan has changed significantly.” He said conditions would be put in place to satisfy many of abutters concerns and if complaints are lodged, those will be investigated.
Boerger said, “The implication that we were flying under the radar is a gross exaggeration. Jim had a permit as a right at the time, a lawful permit,” referring to an earlier board’s permitting of the operation under an agricultural activity.
Bitter words continued, and Jim Vogel countered, “These things are not true at all…. We’ve had enough…. Do we have to hear it again!”
Planning Board member Lee Carr shouted, “Take it outside!”
As things simmered down, the board asked the applicant to agree to a continuation and to return with the edits requested for the plans. The hearing was continued until September 12.
Also getting an earful from concerned residents was Steve Long of Borrego Solar Systems for property located at 453 Rounseville Road. The planned 9,000-unit solar voltaic array developer has met several times with Rochester boards and was returning after an August 7 hearing when representatives failed to answer all the questions raised.
Long presented his edits based on comments by, once again, Ken Motta of Field Engineering, the peer review consultant. Such issues as the number of trees that would be removed, placement of transformers and associated equipment, stormwater management, screening, and service roads were all discussed.
Board member Gary Florindo asked if the overhead electrical cables could be placed underground. Long said the utility provider governed that aspect of the project, but after some pressure from several members of the public, said he would discuss that option with the operating partners.
Strong sentiment against the project came up again and again as members of the public and abutters shared their opposition towards the project.
John Sheehan said, “You’re going to put an industrial solar project in a residential area! They are eyesores. It’s going to damage my property. It’s going to destroy the character of the town!” he stressed.
Others were concerned that the solar panels would leach toxins into the land and water. Still others wanted to know why Rochester was becoming a place for so many solar projects.
Johnson explained that they could not refuse to allow solar projects. But Florindo agreed that it was “getting a little bit too far out of hand.” Yet he defended the work of the Planning Board, saying, “People sitting at this table are the same as the people sitting in those chairs,” pointing to the public. “We’ve been to the site; we’re listening to all your information…. I have to do my duty.”
Then Planning Board member Michael Murphy asked the public, “Are you ready to go to court?” The audience roared, “YES! We are ready to go to court.”
Johnson calmed the proceedings, saying, “We have to take a reasonable interpretation of the regulations.” Then he reminded the crowd that when the townspeople were against a cell phone tower, a judge settled the matter by giving the town the opportunity to select a location or he would do it from them. “We can’t prohibit solar farms,” he said.
Several in attendance said they had been in contact with Representative William Straus’ office and would share emails received.
The hearing was continued until September 12.
Also continued until the September 12 meeting are two continued hearings by applicant Craig Canning (including one for Progressive Growers) for two business ventures he is pursuing. The agricultural distribution facility that he plans for Kings Highway was vetted first.
Motta was again front and center as the peer review consultant, saying in his commentary to the board that issues he had brought to Canning’s engineering consultant had been addressed. Such matters as erosion controls, septic placement, traffic site lines, and traffic routing via Route 28 were discussed.
The board waived the septic setback requirements and agreed that the Kings Highway curb cut would only be used for emergency vehicles.
The hearing was continued until September 12 to give the Conservation Commission adequate time to complete their plan review.
Canning was up again for the last hearing of the evening with his plans for a permanent farm stand and retail business located on Marion Road.
Once again, the board members seemed satisfied with site plan modifications that had been requested at the previous meeting, covering such items as wooden guardrails, handicap parking, driveway and parking areas, and screening.
But once again things got heated when Attorney Donald Fleming attempted to point out problems with the plan as he represented abutter Mrs. Kenneth Cutler of 223 Marion Road.
Fleming took exception to the number of additional vehicles the business would draw into the residential area, the use of a second building proposed for the site, and lighting.
Johnson said that it was too early in the review process for this business, and that since Fleming had not been in attendance at earlier meetings he was unaware that some issues had already been discussed.
Then Cutler asked to speak.
“I do not want it across the street,” Cutler began. “I don’t want a commercial building in that field.” She went on to complain heartily about the current traffic problems on Route 105, but her biggest issue was that the commercial structure will be situated in a field she currently enjoys viewing.
The hearing was continued until September 12 to give the applicant time to complete site plans edits.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for September 12 at 7:00 pm in the Rochester Council on Aging Center on Dexter Lane.
Rochester Planning Board
By Marilou Newell