Noise complaints brought to the attention of the Rochester Planning Board were addressed on January 9, with the board content to allow Wellspring Farm owners Holly and James Vogel to “self-police” by monitoring cars that enter the property for long-term idling, the basis for part of the complaints lodged by an abutter about noise emitted from the hippotherapy center.
Attorney for the Vogels, George Boerger, disputed the allegations that the idling of cars, which is prohibited in the Order of Conditions, would exceed a Massachusetts regulation on maximum noise levels, as abutter Cathy Mendoza alleges.
Citing a letter from an experienced sound specialist, Boerger stated that in the 30 years this specialist had been in the field, he never once heard of a noise complaint surrounding idling cars exceeding the noise limit. Even with seven cars idling at the same time, Boerger said, “That wouldn’t be a violation of the state regulation.”
Referring to another allegation of noise violations, that of therapists and clients conversing loudly, “Conservations between individuals is not a violation,” Boerger said.
“It’s people riding horses and people talking,” said Boerger.
Having acknowledged the complaints, however, Boerger said the Vogels have been trying hard to comply with the state’s noise regulation, as stipulated in the Order of Conditions issued by the Planning Board, by handing out letters to clients about idling vehicles and by providing a heated building for drivers and parents to utilize while they wait for clients’ 45-minutes sessions to finish, to mitigate the need to idle.
Two more “No Idling” signs have also been ordered, Boerger said, despite the state’s regulation permitting idling for the use of a heater, according to Boerger.
But Planning Board member Ben Bailey contested Boerger’s assertion that cars could idle in order to utilize the heater. He said he had the regulation in front of him on his iPad and that the regulation specifically stated that idling for heater use was not an exception.*
“Given the sensitivity to the area,” said Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson, “no matter what the regulations are, a little bit of self policing,” he continued, goes a long way. “You know when the people generally come in to pick up their kids,” said Johnson, adding that employees should approach anyone in the lot appearing to idle, “Because this is impacting you.”
Bailey repeatedly referred to a “bag of apples” analogy he used to suggest the Vogels “open up the bag” and “count the apples,” symbolizing how they should fund their own noise study to prove their innocence, while attorneys would prefer to argue over “how many apples are in the bag.”
Boerger argued that funding a noise study simply to prove the allegations are false was “unreasonable.”
“We’ve done everything that you’ve asked us to do and we’ve exceeded that,” said James Vogel. “We will not guarantee that it’s going to be excellent and perfect. We guarantee that we will do the best that we can … that we will follow what you’re saying.”
Town Planner Steve Starrett said he located the Town’s sound meter and went to the Hiller Road facility to take some sound samples.
“I’m not an expert, I’ve just done some random tests,” said Starrett, adding that he consulted with the DEP over how to take samples and other pertinent details. What he found, he said, was that sound levels at Wellspring were in general no different than any residence.
The sound of the wind through the pine trees, he said, was enough to raise decibel levels 25 dB above ambient sound.
Over at Rochester Crossroads, Starrett said, he took sound samples of seven cars idling in a parking lot and recorded 52 dBs. “That’s only ten or twelve above ambient. You’re not talking huge numbers there.”
Vogel asked the board to finally close the matter, and Johnson seemed satisfied enough to allow the Vogels to go about their business while being vigilant of idling cars in the parking lot.
“We’ll continue to monitor, but for now it seems we’ll be satisfied with that,” said Johnson.
Also during the meeting, the board threw some shade at solar developer Clean Energy Collective, developers of a community solar energy facility approved and under construction off Mattapoisett Road.
In an attempt to not be like “one of those” solar farms in town that have violated Planning Board conditions, Clean Energy Collective representatives wanted the board to know that some elevation numbers were inaccurate, and the developer wanted permission to either build a screening berm higher to screen the panels of one section more effectively, or to allow for more intense blasting in order to bring the elevations into compliance with the plan of record.
Not okay, the board agreed. It’s not that simple.
During grading operations, workers discovered that an area of rock ledge was too hard and dense to continue to drill and would require blasting above and beyond what the Planning Board had approved.
The Historical Commission’s concern now is that the historical landmark “Devil’s Footprint” rock located at the site would be damaged with further blasting. The Order of Conditions mandated that best practices be followed to avoid damaging the rock.
However, if the incorrectly noted elevations were allowed to stand, and a berm height increase allowed, stormwater management systems would be affected.
Clean Energy Collective representatives believed both options to be minor changes to the plan, but the board disagreed.
After about an hour-long discussion, Planning Board member Chris Silveira’s suggestion that the developer explore another option of drilling deeper into the rock to see if it can then be hammered down looked like an attractive alternative to Clean Energy reps, given the strict deadlines for solar applications in Massachusetts.
A Cease and Desist Order that was issued to the developer will stand, but will allow for the continuation of drilling and hammering of the ledge rock; meanwhile, the developer will submit a parallel request to the Planning Board to re-open the public hearing, a more lengthy process, just in case the drilling and hammering does not pan out.
And as for the Devil’s Footprint rock, Johnson cautioned the developer, “It’s like the ‘Old Man in the Mountain.’ Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
The matter was continued.
In other matters, the Special Permit public hearing for a large-scale solar farm at 453 Rounseville Road was continued for one more meeting to allow for some final details to be addressed. The board issued its totals for a number of bonds and allowed abutters to ask questions about concerns on wells.
The Special Permit for a Back Lot filed by Madeleine Monteiro for 0 Walnut Plain Road was continued until January 23 at the applicant’s request. The proposed back lot would be located in Rochester, but accessed via an entrance located in Middleboro. The applicant may withdraw its application without prejudice should the Rochester building commissioner decide to issue a building permit based on review of Middleboro’s approved plan.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for January 23 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
*A review of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Title XIV Chapter 90 Section 16A does not reveal any direct reference to the use of words involving “heat” or “heater”, nor does it authorize idling for the use of heat; Section 16B does reference “heating” pertaining to school vehicles on school property, allowing for some prolonged idling of school vehicles to operate heating “to ensure the health or safety of a driver or passengers…” on public or private accredited schools.
Rochester Planning Board
By Jean Perry