A controversial solar array project planned for land off Frankland Road is moving forward while the developer prepares to submit an application for a building permit, even as it is mired in litigation filed by some abutters.
Planning Board members on Monday night reviewed a letter submitted by Connecticut-based Seaboard Solar updating the town on the status of the project and its intention to proceed with tree clearing and site stabilization. The board, minus one member who was not present, also held public hearings on three other projects, taking action on two of them and agreeing to continue discussion on another at its next meeting.
“As you know, we received all the approvals required for our solar project, but most of the approvals were then appealed by a neighbor,” Pedro Rodriguez of Seaboard Solar said in the letter dated Feb. 18. “After the proper legal procedure, all the [appeals] have now been dismissed except for the one against the special permit. As you are aware, we are entitled to proceed with the construction of the project, at our own risk, while the special permit appeal is being litigated, and we plan to do so.”
“Due to the time constraints of the statement of qualifications that we received from the Massachusetts Department of Utilities,” Rodriguez continued, “we decided to proceed with the clearing of the property and the stabilization of the site while we prepare the documents needed for the issuance of the building permit.”
The letter also outlined several conditions related to a special permit and stormwater permit to be completed before the start of site clearing and stabilization as well as conditions that will be completed before the building permit is issued.
Saying he didn’t intend for any discussion on the project at the meeting, Chair Gary Trendel acknowledged the communication between Seaboard Solar and the town.
“There is active litigation,” he said, “but they would like to get started with [the project], and it certainly is within their right. They’re doing things they’re legally allowed to do.”
Marathon School addition discussed
The board voted to continue discussion on the expansion of Marathon Elementary School, but not before casting an eye toward the potential need for future expansion to accommodate a growing student population.
The $3.6 million project would add to the school that opened in 2018 on Hayden Rowe Street. Plans call for four additional classrooms: two kindergarten classrooms on the first floor and two first-grade classrooms on the second floor, along with a stair tower to support it.
“Just from our conversations with the school, everybody’s very happy,” Lee Rich, project manager for DRA Architects, told the board.
The original design included some designated spaces, such as an art room, but, Rich said, because of an increase in the student population — the school, originally built to accommodate 600 students, now houses about 620 — those rooms have been taken offline and will become regular classrooms.
“The design of the classrooms is pretty much identical,” Rich said. “The employees are pretty happy with the design at this point.”
Responding to a question about parking, Rich said, “We’re not really increasing the population. These classrooms will just reestablish what the [original] design intended.”
Board Member Rob Benson asked whether there is any other space where additional classrooms might be constructed in the future that would require alterations to the existing roadway, parking lot and site plan.
“I don’t see the town stopping to increase its population,” Benson said.
“Our team has done studies to consider what additional areas might be considered around Marathon School,” responded Jim Barrett from DRA. “At some point, we will start triggering the requirement for [shared areas such as] the cafeteria, gymnasium, library, etc. At some point, these spaces are going to be affected by the overall size of the population. There are some [areas] that are possible, but there would have to be a study to dictate whether they’re prudent or not.”
Laborers’ Training Center expansion moves forward
Continuing a previous public hearing on the proposed expansion of the Massachusetts Laborers’ Training Center, the board gave unanimous approval, with several conditions, to the site plan and stormwater plan.
Plans for the project at 37 East Street include a new headquarters building, crane training facility and addition to the existing dormitory building, along with associated site improvements.
Connelly Farms updated plan approved
Unanimous approval was awarded to amend a previously approved plan for the Connelly Farms subdivision project at the corner of Hayden Rowe Street and College Street. The amended plan calls for a shortened roadway, shifting the location of the end of the cul-de-sac and reducing the number of lots from nine to eight.
Principal Planner John Gelcich called the proposed amendments “relatively straightforward.”
Waivers that had been granted in the previous approval, including a request for cross-sections at intervals and the installation of Cape Cod berms instead of granite curbing, remain in effect.
The board, which previously conducted a site walk for the project, determined another site walk was not necessary.
Remote meetings to continue
Remote meetings will continue for the Planning Board until after the Annual Town Meeting on May 2. All meetings must return to in-person as of July 15, but Trendel saw no need to rush back.
“I think remote’s been working fairly well for us, so I’m not feeling any urgency to get back to in-person,” he said, with his colleagues in agreement.