Solar Projects Granted Extensions

            The Rochester Planning Board Tuesday granted one-year extensions to two solar photovoltaic system installation permits for projects on Featherbed Lane and Braley Hill Road.

            The representative for both plans, Greg Sampson of Boston-based Womble Bond Dickinson LLP, said the sticking point is that a group transmission multiyear study for solar projects in the region was recently conducted. That study is now complete, and Eversource has three years to complete the upgrades necessary to accept the additional power generated by these solar installations.

            The proposed installation at 0 Featherbed Lane received its Special and Groundwater Protection permits on October 27, 2020. The proposal at 0 Braley Hill Road earned its Special Permit and Groundwater Protection and Scenic Highway decisions on June 20, 2020.

            The board unanimously approved the extensions, and noted town bylaw will allow such a project two years between being permitted and having to begin construction without such an extension. Both will be able to request further extensions as necessary.

            Earlier in the meeting, the board again continued, this time until March 28, its public hearing on the canopy-mounted, large-scale, photovoltaic system to be built over the parking lot at Rochester Memorial School. The board did so, saying the project’s peer review is not complete. This installation will measure 222 feet long by 438 feet wide and be supported by seven columns and will be built on 13.7 acres in the school’s rear parking lot.

            Later in the meeting, Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson provided an update on the progress of the Public Safety Facility Feasibility Study Committee, which is charged with examining whether to combine, replace or rehab the town’s police and fire stations.

            Johnson said the panel’s new focus will be creating two separate buildings to address the department’s inadequate space needs. The current police station will be renovated with a small addition. The current sallyport, which is too small to fit a modern ambulance, will be torn down and replaced by one that better fits the department’s needs.

            A new fire station will be built to replace the facility near Rochester Memorial School. The possible sites being considered, he said, are the Country Fairgrounds on Pine Street, land on Mendell Road that is currently privately owned and town-owned land on High Street. Additionally, population growth related to the Connet Woods housing development may lead to building a small, satellite fire station there to house a single ambulance and fire truck.

            Planning Board member Ben Bailey said he is sponsoring a Town Meeting citizen petition warrant article that may affect how expensive these capital projects are. He said he and everyone who has signed his petition wants the town to drop out of being a Green Community. That is because the strict Stretch (building) Code that a Green Community must follow makes capital projects such as this one too expensive, he said.

            Johnson agreed. He said the town fire chief has told him stories that include the fact public safety officials are finding it hard to find the hybrid fire engines the Green Community code requires, and many building code requirements mandate expensive construction upgrades. “It adds a lot of soft costs to construction,” Johnson said.

            The Planning Board will meet next on Tuesday, March 28, at 7:00 pm.

Rochester Planning Board

By Michael J. DeCicco

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