The Rochester Planning Board met on October 13 to address certain conflicts that have been raised surrounding work being done on the Old Middleboro Road Solar Project. On a visit to the site, Town Planner Steven Starrett discovered that the construction group tasked with completing the project has been following a set of plans that never received approval from the Rochester Planning Board.
Although the board granted approval to the proposed solar project, construction on the site has been deviating from the rules and regulations that were established during the board’s public hearing on the proposal. Starrett explained that the changes to the plans were made to adhere to specific regulations that were put in place by the Rochester Conservation Commission. Since the applicants never brought the Conservation Commission’s requirements before the Planning Board, the project is now essentially being constructed without the town’s approval.
Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson expressed his own hesitation toward the development and revealed his concern that the secluded location of the construction area may make it difficult to monitor what is happening in the area. In addition, the Planning Board has received reports that tree clearing in the area has already taken place without any approval from the town.
Johnson also received notice that bonds required for the project to go forward were never provided to the town. Starrett told the board that it is likely that the project managers decided to move forward with the work in order to complete an access road to the site before their October 15 deadline. With a lack of the required bonds and a clear conflict between the plans being used and the plans approved by the board, Johnson made it clear that the work being done is not permitted.
Rochester Planning Board member Bendrix Bailey proposed a motion to halt all development of the project until new plans are presented to the board and the required bonds are in place. The board unanimously carried the motion to halt all progress on the Old Middleboro Road Solar Development.
Developers will need to submit a new application to the Planning Board containing the set of plans they intend to use on the site going forward. Johnson explained that the opportunity to review the new plans will allow the Planning Board to determine whether the changes to the plans required by the Conservation Commission constitute significant or insignificant changes to the development.
Pending the board’s approval of the new plan set, the development could face punitive measures if work continues. Johnson explained that it may be in the board’s best interest to have its peer-review engineer group, Field Engineering, establish a site office at the development at the applicant’s expense in order to guarantee that any work being done is fully in accordance with approved plans. Ultimately, the board agreed that halting work at this site is in the best interest of the town, as allowing it to continue could set a dangerous precedent.
The board concluded its business with discussions relating to a solar development on Featherbed Lane. The Featherbed Lane Solar North project, represented by Beals and Thomas Inc., which dates back to May, will no longer move forward. The applicant for the project submitted a Withdrawal without Prejudice after the anticipated purchase of the required property was not completed.
With the prospect of the future development no longer practical, the board voted to withdraw the application and bring any proposed work relating to the development to an end. Despite the closure of the application, there is still another proposed solar development on Featherbed Lane. The draft decision for that proposal, also represented by Beals and Thomas Inc, will come before the board for approval in its next meeting.
The next Rochester Planning Board meeting is set to take place at the Rochester Middle School, with remote access provided via Zoom, on October 27.
Rochester Planning Board
By Matthew Donato