Developer pitches solar on Gold Property, offers remaining land to town

Developer pitches solar on Gold Property, offers remaining land to town

A draft plan prepared by DiPrete Engineering shows the parts of the Gold property reserved for conservation and solar development under a new plan pitched by Anthony DelVicario. The area shaded in red would be turned over to the town for conservation, while the white horizontal lines indicate solar panels.
North Smithfield Auto Body, Dowling Village also up for consideration

NORTH SMITHFIELD – A portion of a piece of property that has long been a source of controversy in the town could end up under town ownership under a new solar proposal.

Anthony DelVicario, a Rhode Island-based solar developer also looking to build projects in Hopkinton and Tiverton, is behind the latest proposal on what should be done with the 128-acre Gold property off Mattity Road. The developer signed a purchase and sale agreement with landowner David Gold in June after Gold rejected the town’s offer to buy the property for $800,000.

According to plans presented to the Planning Board last week, 38 acres of the land would be developed for a nine-megawatt solar farm while another 40 acres would be donated to the town for immediate use as soon as the project goes online. The remainder of the land would revert to town use at the end of the farm’s useful lifespan, or a minimum of 25 years.

The plans drew many questions from Planning Board members who heard the pitch for the first time last Thursday, Oct. 3. Alternate member Megan Staples asked how much of the land earmarked for immediate use consisted of wetlands, making them unsuitable for development. According to Dave Russo, an engineer with DiPrete Engineering, about 50 percent of the 40 acres is wetlands, while another 50 percent is highlands.

A map presented shows the planned conservation area stretching along the northeast portion of the property, an area that includes frontage on the property’s pond. According to Russo, that area could be relocated depending on the town’s preferences. The developer was scheduled to meet with the Conservation Commission to discuss the project this week.

Also uncertain was the length of time before the town would obtain full control of the property. Though the project is anticipated to have a 25-year minimum lifespan, John Mancini, the attorney representing the developer told board members the project could be renewed for an additional 25 to 30 years, making it 50 years or longer before the town obtains the remaining land. The project, he said, would likely be decommissioned in phases, with the land turned over to the town as it goes out of use.

“If the efficiency is going to be better, which we think it will, then as the size of the land shrinks, that would be turned over to a conservation easement,” he said.

Mancini told The Breeze the land designated for town use could be maintained under a conservation easement or deeded outright depending on the preferences of the town.

Board members discussed the possibility of capping the renewals on the farm after a certain number of years and also raised concerns about wildlife on the property. Board member Richard Keene spoke positively about the project but said he wanted to see the ruins of an abandoned piggery and former railroad station on the property preserved.

“I’m kind of excited, personally, about seeing the potential for a conservation easement as well as a recreation easement so the public could have access to it,” he said.

The presentation came a few hours after board members held a workshop to discuss possible changes to the town’s solar zoning ordinance. In recent months, several applications for large solar developments have prompted concerns about tree clearing and other environmental impacts. Last month, the board voted to review the town’s solar requirements and requested the Town Council place a moratorium on any new solar applications until changes can be made. The Town Council complied with that request on Monday, passing an emergency moratorium on new solar applications through Dec. 2.

Last Thursday’s presentation did not require a vote by board members. Representatives for the project said they would present further details as well as an archaeological study of the property at a future meeting.

North Smithfield Auto Body expansion, Dowling Village condos move forward

In unrelated business, board members voted on two proposals for planned development along Route 146. In the first, North Smithfield Auto Body owner Thomas Whalen presented plans to expand his business at its current location on Route 146 north. The plans include a new, 14,300-square-foot shop with an office and new service bays. Board members voted 5-0 to approve the project’s master plan application, the first stage of review, pending approval of the entry and exit plans by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.

In the second matter, representatives of Dowling Village returned for a vote on a proposed condo development off Old Louisquisset Pike after initially presenting the plans to the board in May. Mancini, representing Dowling Village developer Brian Bucci, told board members the project would include 21 units in two buildings. Members of the public voiced concerns over parking and compliance with the original Dowling Village plans that were approved in 2004. The board voted 3-2 to approve the project’s master plan application, with Chairman Gary Palardy and member Jeffrey Porter voting against.

Comments

The solar expansion in North Smithfield has become a raging issue, I have to praise the planning board’s recent decision to put a temporary halt to what appears to be
the new race to profit before the true facts are uncovered. I’d also like to thank Councilman Osier from championing a solar moratorium ordinance. We are a small town populated with residents who are involved in living busy lives bringing up families, people juggling many roles and seniors facing life changing choices most financially or health related. Unfortunately it is a perfect environment to allow for decisions that could have long term consequences at the expense of the town. The end result to the lack of forethought came to roost most recently with our exorbitant tax increase. Excuses abounded: not my fault, blame the last people in charge etc. The size of the town almost equals it’s short memory, we've been the “victims” of LL&R, Stamina mills, we’ve lost the revenue from National Grid, Prime Hosptal’s RI Rehab, Stanley Tree service, we suffered from additional cost overruns on building projects. The list is unending. Our roads are horrendous, water lines from Woonsocket into the town could soon become another financial boondoggle. These “problems” all fall into the taxpayers pocket. And now add the thought that taxpayers should potentially be satisfied with a reward of bathrooms and concession stands that will benefit a small segment in trade for the ability to get the best deal from a developer who has profit as his goal, is just another example of our shortsightedness. To add insult to injury the deal is being pushed by someone who was voted out of office for using his office to promote his personal agenda. North Smithfield taxpayers deserve better, but only our due diligence can stop this madness. Hopefully purported benevolence will not be added to our list of excuses for failing to expertly explore consequences of decisions.