Some residents on Marion Road got acquainted with their new neighbors on the night of April 26 at the Rochester Planning Board meeting with Meadowatt, LLC, developers of a proposed solar farm. Although the tone was civil, the sentiment wasn’t exactly welcoming.
Engineer Bob Bersin addressed a number of the board’s concerns carried over from the prior Planning Board meeting, including a number of grammatical corrections in the documents, some comments made by the town’s contracted engineer, and the specification of fencing color, among other things.
Bersin said the grass and the grading would remain untouched for the most part, saying, “We tried not to disturb as much as possible.”
Planning Board member Gary Florindo reminded him that many of the green fields in Rochester are hay fields, and they don’t necessarily stop growing at 4 feet.
“The whole idea is to leave it a grass field,” said Bersin, although neighbors will no longer be able to see it behind the 8-foot high highway barrier wall the developer proposes, which one neighbor Morgan Cecil later called “gaudy plastic.” Cecil asked the board for its opinion on the project.
“I just want to know where it stands,” said Cecil. “Does the board feel that this is an appropriate place for a solar field on a scenic highway as you enter Rochester in the watershed protection [district] for something that is solely beneficial to the owner?” asked Cecil.
This, replied Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson, was outside the purview of the board.
“As far as the board is concerned … it does not review per se whether we feel or not … that it is an appropriate use in the town,” said Johnson. “It’s not really a popularity contest and a vote up or down on whether or not we like it.”
But, added Johnson, the board is proposing some changes to the solar bylaw; however, they likely will not affect the current proposed project. These changes will affect any future projects that seek to develop solar within the limited commercial and historic district in the center of town. Furthermore, the solar bylaw would mandate all solar projects to undergo site plan review regardless of size and scope.
Some residents were concerned about their property values and held many of the same concerns other new solar farm neighbors expressed, such as safety and screening.
Florindo told them that the Planning Board does not take these applications lightly, saying, “We go out and get our feet wet to make sure that when it’s done, it gets done right.”
The board assigned Bersin a list of other requirements, including an updated landscape and maintenance plan, as well as separating the plan into two planes – one for during construction and one for after.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for May 10 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
By Jean Perry