Douglas Pike solar farm gets green light despite pushback

Douglas Pike solar farm gets green light despite pushback

Town resident Kirk Magnussen spoke against a solar project planned near his Providence Pike home during a Zoning Board meeting on Tuesday night. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Despite vigorous protests from neighbors, a 900-kilowatt solar project is moving forward off Douglas Pike after the Zoning Board signed off on the project this week.

On Tuesday, the board voted 5-0 to grant Sergio DeCurtis, owner of the property at 2361 Providence Pike, a special use permit to build a solar farm between Douglas and Providence Pikes. The panels will take up 3.17 acres on a 12.3-acre subdivided lot, and require the clearing of approximately 5 acres of trees.

“This is the future of where we’re going as a country, and it’s really something I think we should embrace,” DeCurtis told Zoning Board members.

The project drew strong opposition from neighbors who raised concerns on its impact to abutting properties. Nicole Waybright, a Smithfield resident who lives just over the town line from the project, told board members she didn’t think the project was appropriate for a quiet, residential district.

“What the applicant is asking for is to put a full-scale, for-profit business in the middle of that area,” she said.

Waybright submitted a letter signed by the owners of five abutting properties who were opposed to the project, including Laurie and Kirk Magnussen of Providence Pike. Kirk raised questions about a proposed electricity conduit line that was originally planned for a different route but was later rerouted to avoid a historic cemetery on DeCurtis’ property. The new route, he told the board, would rest within 10 feet of a well on his property, presenting serious concerns.

“I’m terrified that it’s going to pollute my water,” he said.

Zoning Board Chairman Robert Najarian requested that the developer address the well issue at a future point, but he also cautioned residents that the board was limited in its oversight. Many of their concerns, he said, would be addressed by other agencies, including the Planning Board and Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, who still have to grant their final approval. The Zoning Board, he said, was only able to rule on whether the project met the criteria for a special use permit, which includes, among other things, its compatibility with the surrounding area.

DeCurtis gave his own defense of the project, pointing out he’d adjusted his plans to take into account the concerns of the Planning Board and neighbors. Before submitting the project in North Smithfield, he’d submitted similar plans for his property in Smithfield, but revised them due to strong opposition from residents.

“We had some neighbors who were concerned about seeing it from their backyards, and that’s understandable. Moving it to North Smithfield moved it further away from any abutters,” he explained.

While the solar farm will be in a residential area, Najarian pointed out the town allows the board to grant a special use permit for solar farms in residential districts.

“We have painfully little commercial district in this town,” he said. “If we don’t allow them in residential districts, 90 percent of available space would be removed for solar in this town.”

Another board member, Mario DiNunzio, said the renewable energy project’s positive impact on the climate was a deciding factor for him.

With the Zoning Board’s blessing, the project will now move to the Planning Board for final approval. In August, the Planning Board narrowly approved the project’s preliminary plans by a 3-2 vote.