Solar at RMS Subject to Process

            Three of 13 warrant articles in the October 18 Rochester Special Town Meeting brought about substantial discussion from the floor, but only one article drew more than two negative votes while seven articles drew unanimous votes of approval.

            The 46-4 vote in favor of Article 11, clearing the way for a solar canopy over the Rochester Memorial School parking lot, virtually guaranteed a clean sweep for the warrant on a night when the stiffest challenge was establishing a 50-voter quorum.

            In his debut meeting at town moderator, David Arancio (also chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals) asked for attendees’ patience with him in his new role, but Arancio found himself exercising patience when the 7:00 pm scheduled public meeting at RMS was delayed for 21 minutes, including nine minutes just two voters short of a quorum.

            Once he could call the meeting to order, Arancio thanked predecessor Kirby Gilmore and Selectman Woody Hartley in his introductory remarks.

            Article 11, which authorizes the Select Board to enter into a lease agreement for land and/or air rights for the construction of solar canopies over the RMS parking lot, caused concern for an abutter to the elementary school campus.

            Concerns from the floor included a request for a plan including the exact location of the solar array, and a written guarantee that the location would adhere to its proposed plan. “I need a warm and fuzzy feeling here because it’s been awful for me, personally,” said an abutter, noting that “For the people that live in the neighborhood, it’s been very detrimental to our homes.”

            Town Counsel Blair Bailey responded that the project will be subject to site plan review with the Planning Board “… since it has impact on the neighborhood.” Screening, fencing, and assorted viewing aspects of the project fall under the Planning Board’s area of expertise, Bailey said.

            As concerns were articulated, Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson stood up to explain the vetting process including initial meetings followed by an official filing, certified mail sent out to abutters, along with two weeks of advertising of any public hearings for the project in The Wanderer.

            “While we’ve done a lot of solar … I have not seen any conceptual plans,” said Johnson, noting that the RMS solar canopy will be the first elevated solar project in Rochester, “So it’s going to be interesting how they’re going to screen that. This will be the first project that the board’s done with elevated solar.”

            There is another solar project, Johnson noted, currently going through the vetting process. He said the project’s panels are 12 feet off the ground but much farther off the road.

            Johnson told the abutter that it would take five of a potential seven Planning Board votes to move the RMS array forward and that the applicant would incur the cost of any screening dictated by the board.

            In answer to Conservation Commission Chairman Chris Gerrior’s question asking if the RMS solar project will be subject to all of the town’s solar bylaws, Johnson replied that the proposal is being filed under site plan review. That will address screening, drainage, and highway and public safety authorities’ concerns for emergency ingress and egress.

            Article 7 approved an additional retail liquor license for property within the Cranberry Highway Smart Growth Overlay District.

            While Rochester still has liquor licenses available for eating and drinking establishments, the town entered the meeting at its limit for retail liquor licenses and with requests in hand.

            In answer to questions asked by Johnson, who owns Fieldstone Market on Route 6 in Marion, Bailey said that there are three current retail liquor stores in town: Adrian’s Package Store Inc. on Mary’s Pond Road, Lloyd’s Market on Hartley Road, and Plumb Corner Market on Rounseville Road. “The selectmen looked at it, and that far corner made sense because it didn’t negatively impact [the other businesses],” explained Bailey.

            Johnson nonetheless considered the location of town in the proposal as “being specifically selected and exclusive.”

            “If it doesn’t get issued, it doesn’t get issued,” said Bailey. “We just looked at it and thought that area of town was appropriate for an additional license rather than opening it up to the entire town.”

            The measure passed by a 48-2 vote.

            Voters passed Article 1, which proposed a dog-licensing season of January 1 to March 31, after which a $25 late fee will be assessed to any applications that calendar year. Described by Town Clerk Paul Dawson as more of a bookkeeping matter, the change in the late schedule is being made to agree with the licensing schedule that is based on the calendar year.

            Technically, the bylaw does not apply strictly to renewals, but in 99-percent of cases, that is how the bylaw will apply. Asked by a citizen if it should be categorized as a late fee for renewals, “We apply it in a way that we think is equitable to all people,” said Dawson, noting that the bylaw says it applies to all dogs.

            Article 2 addressed the Assessor’s office, approving a $10,000 commitment to improve the computer system (CAMA) for property valuations.

            Article 3 approved a $3,000 addition to the funds committed at the May 24 Town Meeting, the money going toward the Assessors’ supplemental budget for software and support services.

            Article 4 approved spending $10,000 for the selectmen’s consulting services (in finding a replacement for Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar, who plans to stay on as town accountant after her contract expires on June 30, 2022).

            Article 5 approved $10,000 in spending for the Facilities Department to meet the raised cost of the purchase of a utility truck.

            Article 6 approved the renaming of the Board of Selectmen as the Select Board. Its elected members will also be officially titled Select Board members rather than selectmen.

            Article 8 authorized the town to rescind the previously authorized borrowing of $160,000 to purchase land between Town Hall and the Congregational Church (the board decided against making that purchase).

            Article 9 unanimously approved the Old Rochester Regional School District agreement, and likewise Article 10 authorizes ORR to create its own capital stabilization fund. Asked by a citizen, Finance Committee Chairman Kris Stoltenberg said that the committee chose not to vote on the motion but left the matter to the selectmen.

            Article 12 approved the transfer of $200,000 to the Road Improvement Stabilization Fund, and Article 13 approved the transfer of $300,00 to the town’s regular Stabilization Fund.

Rochester Special Town Meeting

By Mick Colageo

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