Court sends denied solar permit back to Planning Board

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The town Planning Board will hold a public hearing on March 11 to reconsider the previously denied application by TJA Clean Energy to build a solar facility on 34 acres off Wilson Street.

The hearing was prescribed by an order of remand from the state Land Court at the request of both the town and TJA Clean Energy.

]“The application will get a second look by the Planning Board and a second chance,” according to Selectmen chair Claire Wright. “This has been agreed upon — a ‘mulligan’ so to speak — in lieu of a costly court process. We hope it will produce a resolution quickly.”

Last year, after a four-month series of public hearings, the Planning Board on Oct. 1 voted to deny a Commercial Solar Photovoltaic Special Permit Application by TJA Clean Energy to build a facility on 34 acres off Wilson Street.

On Dec. 4 the applicant filed an appeal to that decision in state Land Court, and on Jan. 18 the court announced a joint order of remand to the town Planning Board.

When asked about the situation, Town Manager Norman Khumalo replied via email that he was “not at liberty to comment on a matter pending before the Planning Board.”

Planning Board Chair Muriel Kramer did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Last year the Special Permit Application failed to garner the required two-thirds majority vote. The only vote in favor came from Vice Chair Fran DeYoung. Members Deborah Fein-Brug, Gary Trendel, Amy Ritterbusch, Mary Larson-Marlowe and David Paul all voted against it. Carol DeVueve and Kramer abstained.

The permit was denied despite advice the Planning Board received in advance from town counsel.

Even before the first hearing in early June of 2018, many neighbors voiced opposition to the plan. Most based concerns on their perceived negative impact the solar arrays would have on the rural character of the neighborhood.

Another issue brought to the attention of the Planning Board involved the historic preservation of some 20 Native American ceremonial stones on the site. However the applicant, in concert with an expert rom the Narragansett Indian Tribe Historic Preservation Office, submitted a preservation plan.

Another focus of the neighbors was the amount of visible infrastructure associated with the electrical interconnection underground. So the Planning Board requested that the applicant review the feasibility of the interconnection point on Cedar Street. After conferring with its electrical consultants, TJA Solar felt that the proposed point of interconnection should remain on Wilson Street.

“Infrastructure is limited to equipment cabinets situated on concrete pads. The applicant is amenable to making this a condition of approval. Additional screening has also been added to this area to block the view from Wilson Street,” the company indicated in a submitted document.

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