Solar Developments and Town Zoning

Greetings from sunny Hopkinton

Hopkinton is a prime target for solar developers looking to install production facilities. Why Hopkinton? Price. Basically, it’s cheaper to buy and clear open space in Hopkinton than to install solar panels on top of old land fills and gravel banks, over parking lots, or on top of large buildings.

But there’s a lot of gray area when it comes to solar facilities. Sometimes solar is a good solution. More on that later, let’s start with the facts: for Hopkinton, commercial-scale solar is currently permitted in Hopkinton in two instances:

  1. On farms (up to three acres)
  2. On property in an industrial or commercial zone (nearly no restriction)

Farms

One acre of solar panels can keep farms in business and preserve dozens or hundreds of acres from development.

On July 18, 2016, Hopkinton Town Council unanimously approved an amendment to allow farmers to install solar panels on their land. Basically, it states that if you own a farm of at least 15 acres, you can install one acre of solar panels. Larger farms may install up to 3 acres. To qualify, you need to file taxes and show income as a farmer.

Commercial and Industrial

On January 6, 2014, Town Council changed zoning to allow commercial and industrial property to have solar panels. There are few restrictions on commercial property. The perimeter setbacks are small, and lot coverage for this zone can be 70% or higher.

The Workaround

Hopkinton zoning map
Town of Hopkinton zoning map as of 2017

The workaround is to change the zoning map. The zoning map is part of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, and Town Council has the authority to change this map up to four times per year. Several developers have asked the town to change residential and farm land to commercial land in order to build solar energy facilities.

This is how developers are getting their solar projects into Hopkinton.  Developers have been asking Hopkinton to change the town to suit their needs and the Town Council have agreed to do so on four recent occasions.

Zone Changes

As of this writing, all of the solar projects in town have been approved by Town Council at one time or another. Most are the small one acre installations on farms. Several are sited on commercial property. Most of the commercial installations aren’t built yet, but some exist. You may have noticed the solar installation on Enchanted Forest property. That’s an example of [largely] unrestricted commercial solar.

Four projects have required changing the zone of the property. The following table shows council votes on projects that required a zone change:

Approved Zone Changes

Tom Buck Barbara Capalbo David Husband Frank Landolfi Sylvia Thompson
Bank St1 Jan 2014 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Alton-Bradford Rd2 Jul 2017 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
High St3 Mar 2018 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Main St / Maxson Hill4 May 2018 Yes No No Yes Yes

1 Bank St. was approved at the same time solar was permitted in commercial and industrial zones, and this project spurred the Town Council to enact a solar ordinance to guide development.
2 Alton-Bradford project is a 60 acre installation
3 High St is sited on an old gravel bank; the neighbors asked the council to allow it
4 310 Main St is 68 acres of solar panels along Maxson Hill Road

Denied Zone Changes

One solar project has been denied by the town.  Hopkinton residents vehemently opposed the project, and three of the council’s five members cast votes that reflected the opinions of the townspeople who spoke out regarding the project.

Tom Buck Barbara Capalbo David Husband Frank Landolfi Sylvia Thompson
Woodville Alton Rd5 Oct 2018 No No No Yes Yes

5 Woodville Alton Rd would have been an approximately 60 acre installation but was not approved

Future Projects

There are projects that currently in the application process. A developer has asked to change the zone of the “Brushy Brook” property to commercial so that solar can be installed. Hearings are ongoing… in fact, there’s a hearing on Monday, March 29. There may be another hearing on the future on a proposed zone changed near Lawton Foster Road South on Main St.

It’s still very much a case-by-case situation.

Town Council Candidates

Members of the council serve two year terms. On November 6, residents will vote on new membership. Five people are running for election, and there are five seats. It’s likely that the five candidates will win a spot on the council. However, you aren’t required to vote for five people. You can vote for 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 positions. Vote only for members you approve of, it’s OK to leave blank spaces.

I haven’t spoken personally to each candidate to confirm their position on solar, but here’s my take based on statements on public record and voting history:

Incumbents

Candidates are listed alphabetically.

Barbara Capalbo seems to listen to town people and votes in their interest whether it be for or against. Read more on The Westerly Sun.

Frank Landolfi has voted for every project. He’s stated recently (and I’m paraphrasing) that he’s interested in diversifying the town’s income so that the town doesn’t need to rely as heavily on citizen’s tax dollars. Read more on The Westerly Sun.

Sylvia Thompson has voted in favor of every solar project to date. She recently stated that she wants revenue for the town, and she believes solar development is a path toward that goal. Read more on The Westerly Sun.

New-comers

Sharon Davis is a newcomer with no voting history. She seems opposed to spontaneous re-zoning of property. Read more on The Westerly Sun.

Scott Bill Hirst has served on the council in the past, but has no voting history in regard to solar projects. Read more on The Westerly Sun.

My 2¢

I try to be objective, but I’m not a journalist. So I’m going to editorialize. I’m not going to tell you how to vote. I’m not going to endorse any candidates. But I’m going to tell you how I feel.

Solar is bad for Hopkinton. Sure, solar on the landfill or on rooftops, or over a parking lot is great. But we don’t have big parking lots. We need business that brings jobs. Businesses that bring jobs that require parking lots (with solar panel canopies!). Our landscape is not ideal for development, but we can have environmentally friendly business near 95 and great hiking trails just a few miles away.

I’ve lived in Hopkinton for ten years. I chose to move to Hopkinton because I love its rural character. I don’t want to live next to a power plant. I wouldn’t have moved here if it were industrial.

Commercial solar brings all of the industrial drawbacks with none of the benefits. Solar brings no jobs, no economy, and the tax revenue is small. It creates a blight on the landscape, and that landscape is currently the #1 thing that Hopkinton has going for it. Let’s not screw it up!

Finally, please vote on November 6. If you don’t like the candidates, submit an empty ballot or write in the names of people you think are better. Your vote (for or against) sends a message to the candidates. It sends a message of apathy when you don’t vote, so take 5 minutes to stop by the polling place and submit a ballot.  You get a free sticker, and you get to shape the future of the town, state, and nation. 🇺🇸

 

Get Involved! Sign the petition to stop zone changes in Hopkinton.

RIDOT Cancels Transit Hub

The State of Rhode Island reconsidered its plan to build a Transit Hub at Exit 1 in Hopkinton. On Monday, March 20, 2017, RIDOT announced that it will cancel its plans.

Director Peter Alviti is quoted, “This was the right decision to make for several reasons. First, we wanted to do what was best for Hopkinton. We understand that the residents treasure the rural nature of their town and they want to keep it that way.”

It’s a great decision for Hopkinton, and a great decision for the State.

There are many people who had a role in convincing RIDOT to change its course.  Thanks go foremost to the people of Hopkinton for their commitment to their town. There’s a patriotic spirit here that runs deep — it’s a special thing — and I, for one, am pleased to witness it.  It’s also important to thank the Hopkinton Town Council, Representative Brian Patrick Kennedy, Senator Elaine Morgan, and Senator Dennis Algiere for their efforts in opposing the Transit Hub, and of course to Governor Gina Raimondo and RIDOT itself for ultimately cancelling the project.

It’s important to also thank Cynthia Drummond and The Westerly Sun. The Transit Hub plan may have gone unnoticed if not for coverage in the newspaper. Indeed, there is more detailed coverage of the story in Cynthia Drummond’s article in The Westerly Sun. We can all be grateful for the attention that local news coverage brought to the issue.

Richmond?

Richmond’s Town Council asked RIDOT to build its rest stop in their town, at Exit 3. Richmond wants the traffic to get off the highway and stop at its businesses.

There are negotiations that’ll go with that, of course. RIDOT has stated that they’re researching it, but Hopkinton is still the intended build site.

I maintain that the plan is not good for RI at either location, but I don’t have much of a voice in Richmond.

I will agree that Exit 3 is a better location for such a project, but it’s not nearly as good a location as Pawtucket or East Providence. That said, here are a few advantages to building in Richmond:

  • It intersects with 138 traffic headed to/from Newport and URI.
  • It puts motorists in Richmond where there are retail options for them to use.
  • It’d be directly adjacent to the existing welcome center, so facility and maintenance would presumably be more cheaper and more accessible.

RIDOT remains silent, however. There is nothing on their website about this plan. The Governor is equally silent. A dialog in this State is sorely needed.

The State knows that a rest area doesn’t make sense. Let’s not waste $12 million on building a new rest stop. Contact your representatives and tell them to stop plans to build their rest stop.

Get Involved

In the Westerly Sun

I’d like to thank the Westerly Sun and Cynthia Drummond for running an article on this initiative. It’s important that the people of Hopkinton are aware of the State’s plans for the town and that Hopkinton has a voice in the planning.

I’d also like to point out that instead of a $12 million welcome center, the state might use the funds for other area infrastructure and transportation improvements. Such as: Improved commuter rail in Westerly or safe bike ways.

Bike paths would attract eco tourists, connect the western part of the state for cyclists, and reduce Rhode Island’s reliance on automobiles/gasoline. Did you know that a bike path from Richmond to Westerly beaches would only take about an hour to ride? Imagine riding to work! Or imagine bypassing the hour long ride in traffic to visit Misquamicut in the summer!

Also, if the state decides against seizing the Exit 1 property, the land could be used for small business. Like the HTP Meds operation that runs a clean shop and employs local people, or provide space for outfits like B2B Global to move their corporate office to Hopkinton. The property at Exit 1 is valuable not only to the Town for tax revenue, but to the State for job growth and economic development. High paying professional and technical jobs can be developed on that land, but not if it’s taken by a rest stop.

Let’s not waste an opportunity for strong economic development in Rhode Island. The State knows that a rest area doesn’t make sense that’s why it closed the one a few miles away. Let’s not waste $12 million on building a new rest stop when we already have one that we aren’t using.

Contact your representatives and tell them you want to invest in good jobs and a strong economy. Not another highway truck stop.

Get Involved

Non-binding Referendum

On July 18, there was a victory for democracy in Hopkinton. The Town Council resolved to place a non-binding referendum question on the November ballot. Residents of the Town of Hopkinton will have an opportunity to express their feelings regarding the RIDOT rest stop.

I applaud this movement by the Town Council, it’s important that residents have the opportunity to speak for themselves.

We still need your help. Get Involved! Tell your representatives directly that you oppose a Hopkinton rest stop / travel center / welcome center.

Will It Stop Drowsy Driving?

Will a Hopkinton Rest Stop fill a 100 mile gap? No.
RIDOT attests that a Hopkinton rest stop will fill a 100 mile gap between food and fuel stations. The actual size of the gap is closer to 10 miles.

“Drowsy driving” is repeated frequently in RIDOT‘s Hopkinton rest stop proposal. RIDOT claims that a Hopkinton rest stop will fill a 100 mile gap between stops, provide travelers with a place to rest and therefore reduce the rate of accidents related to fatigue. But the fact of the matter is that RIDOT isn’t proposing a typical rest stop, it’s proposing something different. The actual gap is fewer than 7 miles.

Continue reading “Will It Stop Drowsy Driving?”