At its meeting Monday night, the Planning Board continued a public hearing regarding a proposed commercial solar photovoltaic installation off Frankland Road, the former Liberty Mutual site.
Representatives from Seaboard Solar attended the meeting to update members on their progress on a punch list of items given to them after the last hearing.
“We appreciate your willingness to work with us on those issues,” Planning Board chair Gary Trendel said.
One of those items was concern over the potential effect of the project on nearby residential wells. Adam Coasta, an attorney working on behalf of Seaboard Solar, said the company didn’t believe there would be any effect on well water because of the nature of the project and that there would be no extensive excavation needed. However, the company did reach out to the town’s Health Department director, Shaun McAuliffe, and health agent Bryan Besso for their opinions. Both concluded they did not see this project having any negative impact on wells.
Abutter Gayle Ober wasn’t convinced there wouldn’t be issues, and Trendel suggested she reach out to the Health Department.
“We as a board have to rely on our professional staff to help guide us,” Trendel said. “Candidly, I’m of the mindset that we should take their guidance and advice seriously.”
Another topic Seaboard Solar addressed was parking for visitors to the trails on the property. Costa noted there is no parking required for the solar project itself, but due to requests from residents to provide parking, the company did some research into site possibilities. None were found to be suitable.
“They presented concerns and obstacles from our perspective,” he said.
So in lieu of adding parking into the design, Costa said Seaboard Solar was prepared to make a monetary donation to Hopkinton Area Land Trust (HALT).
“We are donating this money to HALT so they can pursue the permitting to put in the parking in the place they feel is best,” Seaboard Solar project manager Pedro Rodriguez said.
HALT president Morrie Gasser said the donation will be adequate.
“We have identified a location that seems good,” he said, referring to an area on Cross Street.
The hearing also included in-depth discussions about screening. Seaboard’s landscape plan includes double rows of plantings along the length of the array, landscaped edges around the gravel drive, screen plantings along the corridor of the gas line easement, and additional native plantings such as red maples, red oaks and high value wildlife shrubs like berry bushes and St. John’s wort near the restoration area.
“The idea is we are going to have a randomized design that has two rows of trees so we can ensure the maximum screening from neighbors but that also has a natural feel,” Rodriguez said. “We have never created such a complex landscape design.”
Responding to a concern about the panels reflecting the sun and moon, Rodriguez said the project will utilize anti-reflective panels to minimize that issue.
Planning Board member Mary Larson-Marlowe wanted to know who would maintain the screening and landscaping, and Rodriguez responded that Seaboard has a landscaping contractor. He added that there is a separate escrow account with funds set aside for ongoing maintenance.
“I just want to make sure there is some mechanism that we can ensure we effectively screen year-round this project,” Planning Board member Muriel Kramer said. “I really appreciate that notion of an escrow account so we can ensure we get it right if we are not on the money the first time. We are really very serious.”
Planning Board vice chair Rob Benson wanted to know about the sequencing of the project in terms of development as it relates to screening. Costa said the construction will happen in phases, and the company will install landscaping as it proceeds. Rodriguez noted the fencing will go up fairly quickly because it will be protecting expensive equipment, and landscaping would be planted right away.
Abutter Scott Ober wanted to know what kind of fencing would be used around the site.
“Is it a galvanized chain link fence?,” he asked. “We want to do better than that to screen the trails to look more natural and for the neighborhood to look as natural as possible.”
One resident at the hearing expressed his frustration at the project in general.
“I want to register my disappointment with the process, that the town doesn’t seem to have the ability or perhaps the will to really ensure that projects like this happen in appropriate space,” abutter Bob Ionta said. “I continue to believe this is not an appropriate space. This is an industrial project in a residential neighborhood.”
The hearing was continued to the next Planning Board meeting on Aug. 3.
Solar overlay district clarification
An important clarification was made early in the meeting related to the proposed solar overlay district zoning change slated for Town Meeting and how it might affect the Frankland Road project. Trendel explained that any projects proposed prior to the map’s acceptance — should it pass at Town Meeting — would not be guaranteed.
“We now understand that the assumptions made by the Planning Board during the discussion for the Frankland Road solar special permit and the solar overlay district were incorrect and that the submission of an application prior to the notice of a Planning Board hearing for a zoning change does not grandfather its proposed use,” he said.
Trendel went on to explain that based on discussions with town counsel, the board thought if the Frankland Road project was approved, and the solar overlay map — which does not include the affected parcel — was accepted at Town Meeting, the Frankland Road project would be allowed to continue. Town counsel has opined that is not correct.
“A special permit must be issued prior to the notification, therefore we understand there might be a conflict in the proposed overlay district which will preclude the Frankland Road solar development should the article be approved at Town Meeting, which was not the stated intent of the board during deliberations of the zoning article,” Trendel said.
This clarification will be a future agenda item, and Trendel reminded board members that this issue should not affect deliberation pertaining to the Frankland Road proposal, and should rather primarily affect the board’s recommendation to recommend and approve the solar overlay district.
Trendel chair as board reorganizes
The board welcomed Sundar Sivaraman as a newest member.
“I owe something back to the community,” he said. “This town has given me everything I’ve asked for and more.”
The board also reorganized, voting Gary Trendel as the new chair. He takes over from Muriel Kramer, who elected not to continue in the leadership role. Several board members had kind words for Kramer.
“I want to thank you for your leadership, it’s been invaluable,” member Jane Moran said.
“I congratulate you for doing a stellar job,” member Deborah Fein-Brug added. “I’ve been impressed and honored to serve with you.”
“I’ve learned so much from you in the past two years,” Trendel said. “You always seek perspectives other than your own, and I think that’s so important for us as a board. From a transparency perspective … I think you champion that in a way that is really anchored home for me. I really appreciate your ability to help people find their voices.”
David Paul was nominated for vice chair but declined to accept, saying he could not commit the time needed for the position.
Fein-Brug then nominated Rob Benson.
“I think I can do a good job incorporating the voice of the town,” Benson said.
Trendel nominated Mary Larson-Marlowe, who noted she has chaired the Zoning Advisory Committee for two years.
“But I am honored to take on the challenge,” she said.
Kramer said she has appreciated having them both on the board.
“They have really both found their niches,” she said. “There is a great deal of interpersonal respect and the ability to factor in other perspectives with their own and adjust their own perspectives as the bigger picture emerges.”
Ultimately, Benson took the seat with a 5-3 vote, with Larson-Marlowe voting for Benson to seal it.
There is one vacancy on the board, as Amy Ritterbusch stepped down after being elected to the Select Board. The Planning Board and Select Board will consider a new appointment in the near future.
“I would encourage people if they know of someone who is interested or know of someone who is a good fit to encourage them to apply,” Trendel said.