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Conservation Commission roundup: Grasshopper solar array request gets negative feedback; fined Leonard Street developer threatens to reopen lawsuit against town

by | Oct 11, 2023 | Featured: News, News

The Conservation Commission at its meeting Tuesday night focused on two long-standing cases. They included a fee waiver request from a controversial solar array development and fines assessed against a Leonard Street developer for violations that prompted him to discuss a lawsuit against the town.

Mitch Maslanka, a wetlands scientist from Goddard Consulting, represented Grasshopper Energy regarding its solar array, located between Cedar Street and Wilson Street. He requested that fees be reduced for his client’s new notice of intent filing.

He explained that trees along the periphery “are casting shade” onto about half of the solar panels.

“Grasshopper Energy is going to request through a notice of intent to find a way to reduce the amount of shading on their panels by adjusting the vegetation in the buffer zone,” Maslanka explained. This would include cutting large trees “down to the stump” and replacing them with at least twice the amount of smaller trees.

Because of the disturbance proposed in the 50-foot buffer zone, the filing fees would add up to more than $13,000. An additional $35,000 would be charged for alterations within the 50-foot buffer zone. Maslanka requested that the commission reduce the amount, saying that the work would only be “changing the composition of species and pruning.”

Chair Jeff Barnes noted that he could not comment on the scope of the proposed work because no plan has been submitted. But he stressed that “it is highly unlikely” that the notice of intent (NOI) would be approved. The applicant may not want to spend the nonrefundable fees with that probable outcome in mind.

He added that the site design should have taken the shade into account and that this request would be “a significant departure” from the previously approved plan.

“This strikes me as bad planning for the solar-industrial complex,” said member Ed Harrow. “I have absolutely no intent of voting to not impose these fees.”

Member Ted Barker-Hook asked what Maslanka thought a reasonable fee would be. Maslanka replied that he “hadn’t put much thought into it.” Barker-Hook also was concerned that not charging fees when trees are proposed to be cut could “open up a Pandora’s box” for other developers to use as a precedent.

Member Janine LeBlanc said she considered the plan to have “a significant impact” to the wetlands that would not justify a reduced fee.

The case was continued to its next meeting on Oct. 24, which will be held in person.

Leonard Street developer threatens to sue town

Developer Lou Petrozzi of Wall Street Development Corporation discussed the levying of $13,300 in fines against him. The site at 8, 10 and 12 Leonard Street has experienced stormwater management issues since July 2021. In addition, stormwater pollution protection plan (SWPPP) reports had not been filed as required. Two delinquent reports were filed last month, but they each encapsulated one year.

Petrozzi stressed, as he has done at previous meetings, that he believed that the stormwater problem has been caused by the town. Since the Sept. 12 meeting, riprap and a silt fence were installed to control runoff.

Barnes said the violation needed to be enforced because, if not, the SWPPP report requirement would figuratively have no teeth with developers.

Petrozzi claimed that he was being fined because runoff from town roads caused the erosion to the edge of his property. He added that he is “being penalized” for not filing reports “on a problem that the town created” that he is required to fix at his expense. He blamed the problem on a town drainage culvert that he said was not working properly.

He added that he didn’t want to “reopen a litigation against the town” after there was an understanding that the parties would work together to resolve the issue.

Members noted a history of site violations where fines were not assessed. Barnes said the lack of filing SWPPP reports “has nothing to do with the water,” pointing out that Petrozzi’s engineer designed the house locations and drainage system.

When Petrozzi mentioned legal action again, vice chair Melissa Recos responded that the violations occurred because of turbid water running off Petrozzi’s site, not water coming onto it.

Added LeBlanc [Editor’s note: Changed to correct attribution]: “I’m not comfortable voting a certain way because of veiled threats of litigation.”

Replied Petrozzi: “The litigation is already pending.”

The commission voted 5-1-1 to impose the fines, with commissioner Jim Ciriello against and new commissioner Matthew Moyen abstaining.