The Planning Board voted Monday night to approve a special permit for a 28-acre solar array in the woods off 71 Frankland Road to be built by Seaboard Solar.
The project is a 4-megawatt, alternative current, ground-mounted, solar photovoltaic array and one 3,510-kilowatt alternative current/9,000 kilowatt hour lithium-ion battery energy storage system. The land previously was owned by Liberty Mutual, and the office building on the southeast portion of the property will remain, with Seaboard looking to rent it out.
During the hearing the board considered updates and information regarding parking, antiglare panels, lighting, plantings, trail access, battery storage, noise, screening and maintenance of roads and arrays. The board also heard from several community members who oppose the project. Abutter Scott Ober said he was unsatisfied with information regarding potential contamination to ground and well water.
“I don’t believe the board has spent enough time on this issue,” he said.
In response, the board accepted a stipulation that the Health Department — which previously did not raise concerns about the water — has to assure it has not found contamination on the site before or after construction.
Abutter Bob Ionta expressed his concerns about water contamination and battery storage, but Planning Board chair Gary Trendel pointed out those items had already been addressed.
Fawn Ridge Road resident Thom Robertson said he didn’t think the board had considered the project closely enough, and that Seaboard had not operated in good faith with the community.
“My concern is there is a rush to judgment with desire to put in specific conditions where the board has not been fully informed about what these conditions mean,” he said.
Principal planner John Gelcich reminded the board that members should make their decision based on whether the project is detrimental to the neighborhood. He defined detrimental as being harmful to the health or welfare of citizens. The board was overwhelmingly in favor of approving the permit.
“I think we all agree these commercial solar proposals are tough ones to review,” Trendel said. “I think the applicant has been very accommodating to all of the requests we’ve made. At the end of the day, I think they are preserving the primary uses that the town and the abutters have for this land.”
The board members all had similar thoughts.
“I’m not a big fan of clear-cutting, but these guys have done everything right and there are no waivers,” Planning Board member David Paul said.
Member Muriel Kramer said she was appreciative of the fact that Seaboard had put a conservation restriction in place by donating about 40 acres of undeveloped open space that includes trails and a small lake. She also was impressed by the level of effort Seaboard has given with the screening and the work it had done to protect the cultural and historic significance of the site.
“These are complicated questions because we are all struggling with the commercial use in residential areas,” Kramer said. “I agree the current zoning application has met current guidelines and has worked very hard. … I sincerely, personally appreciate [the company’s work].”
Member Jane Moran said she thought Seaboard went above and beyond preserving the trails and using appropriate plantings. She also specifically pointed to the partnership with Hopkinton Area Land Trust (HALT). Seaboard will be donating money to HALT for the creation of a trailhead parking lot.
“I think that’ a great plus for the town and I want to applaud them both,” she said.
Member Mary Larson-Marlowe said it was helpful to remember that this is not public land, even though it has been used by the public for many years. She also pointed out that as private property, the owners could have chosen to build a large apartment or condo complex.
“We just need to as a Planning Board make sure that the plan that is proposed meets our bylaws and state laws, and it is important the property owner utilizing their land does not infringe upon rights of abutters,” she said. “The abutters have been very well accommodated. If building is going to be happening there, solar is certainly as viable as a bunch of condos. The benefit is some of this land is permanently turned into open space, so it will be an improvement from that standpoint.”
Member Deborah Fein-Brug said even though solar can be positive, it is invasive.
“But I agree they have solved the problems and I think our bylaws have been satisfied,” she said. “They have taken every step you can possibly take.”
Sundar Sivaraman was not allowed to vote due to being new to the board, but said he appreciated Seaboard’s efforts.
“I walk away from this with a very positive view,” he said.
Although the special permit was approved Monday night, the Planning Board also stated its intention to support the solar overlay district proposal that is on September’s Town Meeting. Frankland Road is not part of the overlay district, so if it passes, the project will not be able to proceed without a legal determination.