The Rochester Planning Board is in the middle of the permitting process for what will soon be the town’s largest-scale solar farm, an 8.81-acre, 4-megawatt solar energy field on Rochester Farms, LLC’s agricultural land on Marion Road, Route 105. On July 9, the board reviewed plan details as they continue to develop and issued a few demands of the solar developer, SWEB Development USA, LLC.
SWEB’s representative, Sarah Rosenblat, said she’s received approval from the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program regarding the site’s box turtle habitat, and also from the Massachusetts Historical Commission confirming there is nothing of tangible historical value at the site.
As the discussion over sight line results got underway, Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson pointed out that the board’s prior orders for sight line origination points were not completed as requested.
“I believe we requested that you take the sight lines from the front steps of the abutter’s property across the way and you took them from the edge of the roadway layout,” said Johnson.
“We followed the example … they’re just not from the front door,” Rosenblat replied.
“You need to back up and you need to get the elevation from their front steps,” Johnson told her, specifying that the sight line should be taken from that abutter’s deck to ensure the solar panels will be hidden from view. “That’s what we’ve been asking everyone (other solar developers) to do – shoot them from the front steps,” said Johnson. He added that a section of fence must also be placed so that when board members arrive for a site visit then they can easily determine whether or not the panels are completely screened from the public.
“Craig (Craig Canning, owner of Rochester Farms, LLC) doesn’t actually want us to put a section of fence up,” said Rosenblat. “What we’re going to do is put a flag up instead with an actual 8-foot pole with flags so you can see it.”
The board was not satisfied.
“Craig can’t have everything here,” said Johnson. “[If] he wants this project to move forward, then he’s got to give a little bit, and the fence can go up and then it can come down once we see it.”
Rosenblat tried to persuade the board by saying Canning is currently actively farming where the board wants to see the fence, but the board disagreed.
“Where this line is, that is actually being farmed,” said Rosenblat. “There are crops there; I have been out on site.”
“It’s all rye grass,” Johnson replied.
“I can do my best to ask him for a fence there,” said Rosenblat, but then after said, “There’s crops right there, so that’s – no, I can’t ask him for this …”
“You can ask him; we’ll tellhim,” said Johnson. “It don’t matter to us. … This guy’s trying to put a project on the property here – we need some things here to get some more information out that some of the abutters have requested. So, he can pick – a project or a couple heads of cabbage.”
Johnson reiterated that the fence does not have to be permanently installed at this time, just present so the board can review it during the visit.
Rosenblat then reviewed a decibel level analysis done at the site, stating that the noise level from the inverters, at 3.28 feet away, would not exceed 61.6 decibels at full capacity during the day.
The inverters will not function during the night.
The noise level then drops by 6 decibels for every doubling of distance from the inverter.
Planning Board member Ben Bailey, using a free phone app for recording decibel levels, clocked Rosenblat’s voice at a range of 59-69 decibels, saying, “Your voice is about as loud as those things are gonna be if you were 10, 15 feet away.”
Rosenblat said there will be 32 inverters at the site, “But they’re split,” adding that the closest inverter houses to any abutting property line would be 215 feet away at a decibel level of 25.6, “Which is actually classified as a ‘quiet, rural area,’” she said.
Town Planner Steve Starrett commented that wind blowing through trees on a windy day is about 67 decibels.
The board also discussed some details about rainwater runoff and grass planting once construction is complete. The solar developer will also need to submit easement language prior to rendering a decision and a permit from the fire chief before any blasting.
“I appreciate all the points that we brought up before that were addressed,” said Johnson, “[but] there’s still a couple little fine-tuning to do on that. … We just need to get the fence section put up there … and then we’ll come out for a site visit and you can stake it and he can take the fence down again.”
Rosenblat said she would have updated sight line results by July 17.
The hearing was continued until August 13.
Also during the meeting, the board closed the Site Plan Review public hearing for Sofia Darras, 565 and 0 Rounseville Road for the removal and abandonment of the existing drainage system, and the installation of a new drainage system that includes new deep sump catch basins, drainage manholes and piping, proprietary treatment structures, and subsurface infiltration.
It also continued the Special Residential Development Special Permit public hearing running in tandem with Darras’ hearing for REpurpose Properties for an age-restricted residential development on Rounseville Road next to Plumb Corner Mall, and the Special Permit public hearing until August 13.
REpurpose Properties anticipates a groundbreaking of the project by June 2020.
The board voted in favor of the Approval Not Required application filed by Gibbs V. and Patricia Bray, Trustees and Patricia A. McArdle for Sophia Darras, 565 & 0 Rounseville Road for the division of land next to Plumb Corner Mall.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for July 23 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
Rochester Planning Board
By Jean Perry