NORTH SMITHFIELD – Planning Board members were less than enthusiastic last week about a proposal to develop the former WLKW radio station off Mattity Road into a solar farm and three house lots, asking the developer to address several concerns before returning with updated plans next month.
Paul Vanasse from Andromeda Real Estate Partners presented the master plan application for “Broadcast Hill Estates” last Thursday, Sept. 9. The development would include a 2.8-megawatt solar farm and three house lots backing up to Mattity Road.
As Vanasse explained, the company purchased the property after the radio station went bankrupt in 2014 with the original intention of either building 14 house lots or continuing it as a broadcast facility. They later abandoned those plans after they realized a spoke network of copper wires under the six remaining radio towers would require the removal of a large number of trees to develop it.
“Underneath each one of these towers, there’s 10 acres of reflective wires,” he told Planning Board members.
Those wires were one of the primary concerns raised by board members. Vanasse said the company plans to remove the towers but leave the wires buried underground. Board member Jeffrey Porter said he’s concerned that could lead to leaching from the copper wires into neighbors’ wells. A proposed well for one of the new house lots, he pointed out, is about 100 yard away from the nearest tower.
“My biggest concern is the effect that disturbing all of this land will have on the water supply,” he said.
Members also had concerns about a plan to service the three houses with a shared driveway that may also serve as the access for the solar farm. While the town’s subdivision regulations prohibit shared driveways, Vanasse said they adopted the idea at the suggestion of former Town Planner Tom Kravitz, who was concerned about vehicles exiting onto a tricky stretch of Mattity Road. The shared driveway minimizes the number of new exit points onto the road, but board members questioned whether it would be wide enough for emergency vehicles.
“I think from a public safety point of view, in this particular instance, it’s probably the best solution,” Vanasse said.
Member David Punchak described the plans as “messy” and asked for more detail about the access to the solar farm. Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski also spoke during the meeting, raising concerns about the shared driveway and emergency access.
Though no residents were in attendance, Chairman Gary Palardy read a letter from Christopher Simpkins, a neighboring homeowner who submitted written comments because he was not able to attend. Simpkins pointed out that his property, located at 409 Mattity Road, is abutted on both sides by proposed solar developments. The Broadcast Hill Estates and Gold solar farm proposals, he said, would be less than 700 feet from each other, and both pose concerns related to clear cutting, groundwater disruption and wildlife.
“The proximity of these two projects is alarming,” he said.
Simpkins urged board members to consider the compounding effect of approving both projects. A third project, he pointed out, is currently up for consideration less than half a mile away in Burrillville.
Board members agreed to postpone a vote on the application until the Oct. 14 meeting, when they plan to take further comment from residents. They asked Vanasse to return with more details addressing their concerns about buffering, emergency access, water quality, the shared driveway and an interconnection with National Grid.
Note: This story has been updated from a previous version to clarify that the real estate company considered both a housing development and continuation of the broadcast facility as viable options for the property when they purchased it in 2014, not simply residential development.