In comparison to its big brothers, the solar farm granted master plan approval by the Planning Board last Wednesday night – the first solar development granted under the ordinance …
In comparison to its big brothers, the solar farm granted master plan approval by the Planning Board last Wednesday night – the first solar development granted under the ordinance approved by the City Council a year ago - will barely advance the overall state goal for fully sustainably produced energy by 2030.
The 998.5 kilowatt Direct Current solar development on Knight Street will produce enough power for 150 to 175 homes estimated Brad Parsons, director of design and permitting for Verogy, the Hartford-based company that proposes to lease the site north of the former Pontiac Mills. The solar array consisting of 1,850 panels would be built on nearly four acres adjacent to Knight Street on land on contaminated land zoned light industrial.
While the proposed development appeared to be a near-perfect fit with the ordinance’s aim to locate solar on industrial sites, land contaminated by prior uses and in commercially developed areas, such as canopies over retail parking lots and large development roof tops, Pontiac residents raised concerns over glare, visual impacts of the array and how it is contradictory to the historic district of the neighborhood that regulates individual home solar installations.
“We’re not happy with solar,” said Aaron Bouchard, speaking for the board of the Pontiac Village Association. He said the village would like to have the array “fully obstructed” from the view of residences across the street. He asked “what is the direct benefit to residents?” Bouchard questioned whether area residents could expect a credit to their electric bills as has been the case with solar developments elsewhere. That is not part of the Verogy plan or the agreements it is working on. As a result of the generated input to the grid the neighboring community could expect a more dependable supply of power, Parsons said.
Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi said the neighborhood is “pretty much one sided against” the development. He noted, however, the solar array would eliminate the current dust problem neighbors are experiencing from the use of the property for the storage and sale of top soil, sand, crushed rock and other materials.
Dru Murphy, president of Earth Products, said Monday the company has operated from the same location for almost 30 years and is the sole remaining landscape materials company based in Warwick. He is looking for potential sites in Warwick but hasn’t found anything yet.
Sinapi questioned if sidewalks on Knight Street were possible which raised questions over safety and drainage. That proposal is not among the extensive list of recommended conditions the board cited for the development to gain preliminary plan approval. The board further noted the project requires Zoning Board of Review approval for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow the proposed “contaminated site solar energy system.” The system would serve to cap the site while providing ground cover for plants offering forage for pollinators. The board is also looking for Verogy to gain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic District Commission and that it conforms to all conditions of approval, including satisfying all landfill closure conditions imposed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Land Revitalization and Sustainable Materials Management Division.
Parsons and the board carefully reviewed plans for a berm topped by trees and a fence paralleling Knight Street to obscure the solar panels. As granted by the board the approval reads, “The berm shall be 5’ in height from the top of the highest point of proposed grade on site. On top of the berm, a tight 10’ staggered evergreen buffer shall be installed.”
Parsons said the anticipated life of the development is between 30 and 40 years. Dismantlement of the project would then be required.
Parsons was asked by David Bouchard what are the company’s plans for the wooded north section of the property as well as two ponds on the site. Parsons said nothing is planned for the ponds or the wooded area. Bouchard suggested the wooded area would make for a good dog park.
Having gained unanimous board approval the next step for Verogy is to meet conditions set forth by the planning board and gain a special use permit from the Warwick Zoning Board before returning to Planning for preliminary approval. Parsons inquired as to the possibility of combining preliminary and final approvals, which has not yet been determined. .
The board also granted approval for Graham and Amanda Willoughby, who own and operate Commonwealth House at 655 Commonwealth Ave. to expand the existing 10 unit assisted living facility with the construction of a 14-unit free standing building on the property. The new unit, which would mirror the residential appearance of the existing facility, would require the demolition of the Willoughby home as well as a swimming pool and tennis court on the property. Neighbors spoke in favor of the development, although there was some question over maintaining the integrity of the city’s A-40 (one acre) zoning from Michael Capasso who lives two doors down from the proposed facility. Attorney for the Willoughbys, K. Joseph Shekarchi, explained the rights of property owners and the process of appeal should they disagree with the findings of the board.
The most heartfelt argument came from the daughter of a former patient at Commonwealth House. She said she needed to relocate her mother due to the need of a memory care facility. With the added facility, the Willoughbys intend to offer a wider continuum of care including memory care.
“I felt like it was a family gathering,” she said of Commonwealth House, “I didn’t have to worry about her care or well being…it’s a model for a better way of living,” she said.
Having gained master plan approval, in order for the project to proceed, the Willoughbys will require preliminary plan approval that goes into greater detail of the development including the location of fire hydrants, storm drain management plan, plans for lighting and signage, setbacks and landscaping. They will also be required to obtain a special use permit within the residential A-40 zone.
FROM LANDSCAPING TO SOLAR ENERGY: The Planning Board gave master plan approval last Wednesday for construction of a solar farm on the 4-acre Pontiac Avenue site of Earth Products on Knight Street. (Warwick Beacon photo)
PLANNING DEPARTMENT ● TOM KRAVITZ, DIRECTOR 3275 POST ROAD ● WARWICK, RI 02886 ● 401-738-2009 CITY OF WARWICK FRANK J. PICOZZI, MAYOR Date VPC, LLC (d/b/a Verogy) 124 LaSalle Road, 2nd floor West Hartford, CT 06107 RE: Assessor’s Plat 275 Assessor’s Lots 38 & 52 Property Address The following is the decision on your application for Master Plan Approval of a Major Land Development heard by the Warwick Planning Board at the regularly scheduled meeting held on April 12, 2023. The Applicant is proposing to construct a 998.5 kilowatt Direct Current solar development on Knight Street. The proposed solar development will occupy approximately 3.9+/- acres of the 16.3 acre parcel. The entirety of the project is zoned Light Industrial (LI) with a portion of the site (Lot 38), located within the Pontiac Village Historic Overlay District (H). After completion of the Public Hearing, for which notice was served and a record was kept, the Warwick Planning Board taking into consideration its knowledge and expertise, and after considering all of the representations and presentations made at the Public Meeting, found this proposal to be generally consistent with RIGL Section 45-23-30 General Purposes of Land Development and Subdivision Review Ordinances, Regulations and Rules, and Article 1 Purposes and General Statements of the City’s Development Review Regulations, and Subdivision of Land, specifically, RIGL Sections 45-23-60, Procedure – Required Findings, as follows: 1. That the proposal is generally consistent with the City of Warwick, Comprehensive Plan 2033, as follows: a. That the proposal is generally consistent with the City of Warwick, Comprehensive Plan 2033, (Comprehensive Plan), Part V, Sustainable Systems which calls for regulations to support renewable energy installations; and to choose sustainable materials, methods and practices, when possible. b. That Part V, Sustainable Systems, states that “access to affordable, clean energy is critical to the City and its residents. Energy use, cost and conservation are integrally tied to many of the traditional elements of the Comprehensive Plan, including housing, transportation, economic development, community services, and natural resources…Energy conservation and efficiency are cost effective and reduce air pollution and negative impacts on other natural resources. Techniques for promoting energy demand reduction and efficiency include….the use of renewable and alternative energy sources.” c. That Goal 1, of Part V, Sustainable Systems states that the City shall implement practices to conserve energy and use renewable energy. PLANNING DEPARTMENT ● TOM KRAVITZ, DIRECTOR 3275 POST ROAD ● WARWICK, RI 02886 ● 401-738-2009 d. That Chapter 11 Sustainability and Resilience includes a Recommended Policy (D) “Replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources” and a corresponding Action, “Provide regulations for renewable energy installations on private property (11.16).” 2. That the proposal is not in compliance with the standards and provisions of the City’s Zoning Ordinance in consideration of the following: a. The property is zoned Light Industrial with a Historic Overlay (Lot 38). b. The project requires Zoning Board of Review approval for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow the proposed “Contaminated Site solar energy system, ground mounted.” c. That prior to Preliminary Plan Application, in accordance with Section 311 Overlay district regulations – Historic (H), the project requires a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic District Commission. 3. That there will be no significant negative environmental impact from the proposed development provided the Applicant conforms to all conditions of approval, including satisfying all landfill closure conditions imposed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Office of Land Revitalization and Sustainable Materials Management Division. 4. That the development, as proposed, will not result in the creation of individual lots with such physical constraints to development that building on those lots according to pertinent regulations and building standards would be impracticable in consideration of the following: a. The development, as proposed, is contained on Assessor’s Plat 275, Lots 38 & 52 and the Applicant has sufficiently demonstrated that the lot can appropriately support development while remaining in conformance with pertinent regulations and building standards. 5. That the proposed development possesses adequate and permanent access to Knight Street, which is a public street. Based on the foregoing findings of fact, on a motion by XXX, seconded by XXX, the Warwick Planning Board voted X in favor to grant Master Plan approval. The Planning Board’s approval included the following stipulations: 1. That all Plans shall comply with "Rules and Regulations for Professional Land Surveying in the State of Rhode Island", effective date November 25, 2015. 2. That the Applicant shall submit a Preliminary Land Development Plan that complies with Appendix C of the City’s Development Review Regulations Governing Subdivisions, Land Development Projects, and Development Plan Review, last amendment dated March 14, 2001. 3. That a Storm Water Management Plan shall be submitted in accordance with the Rhode Island Storm Water Design and Installation Standards Manual, dated December 2010, that is designed to demonstrate zero-net rate of runoff from the proposed development. PLANNING DEPARTMENT ● TOM KRAVITZ, DIRECTOR 3275 POST ROAD ● WARWICK, RI 02886 ● 401-738-2009 4. That an Operation and Maintenance Plan for the proposed stormwater collection system be included with the Preliminary submission to the Planning Department.
The berm shall be 5’ in height from the top of the highest point of proposed grade on site. On top of the berm, a tight 10’ staggered evergreen buffer shall be installed. f. The existing vegetation along Knight St. from the intersection of Knight St. and Bleachery Court to the eastern property line shall remain. If this vegetation is to be removed/ cleared then the applicant must extend the berm and evergreen planting buffer to the end of the furthest property line on Knight Street. g. Pollinator mix is required, shall be supported by a maintenance plan with annual reports by the applicant’s landscape architect until the pollinator mix approved by RIDEM is established. Disturbed topsoil shall remain onsite unless removal is required by remediation permits. h. The Landscape Plan shall include all existing trees (at the time of application), requiring removal that are of 20 inches in diameter or larger with a plan for 1 to 1 replacement. 14. That the Preliminary Plan submittal shall include a signage plan, to include all sign locations, sizes, and style. Signage shall be subject to approval by the Historic District Commission. Signage shall include clearly marked procedures for shutting down the solar system. A sign shall be posted at the entry displaying the name of the owner and the operator of the system with a twenty-four (24) hour emergency contact number. Sincerely, Philip Slocum, Chair Warwick Planning Board