“It’s an industrial solar power plant right in the middle of a neighborhood surrounded by trees and stone walls,” one resident says of proposed 57.5-acre solar farm on Brayton Road.
TIVERTON — Fifty-seven and half acres of solar panels on Brayton Road is “too big” Planning Board Vice Chairman Stuart Hardy told the developers Tuesday night. He recommended they scale down the project by increasing buffers and reducing the amount of clear-cutting of trees.
Just five members of the board were at the meeting – one was absent and there are three empty spots. So a vote on a proposed master plan for Brayton Woods Solar would have failed Tuesday night if it was taken. That’s because a majority of five members of the board — which has nine seats — must approve a master plan for a major land development, Chairwoman Susan Gill said.
Developer Anthony DelVicario, represented by attorney John Mancini, will be back before the board Aug. 6.
“Take another look at this. Cut back the industrial scale of it,” Hardy said, and “sacrifice fewer trees.”
Some 10,000 trees on the 101-acre wooded parcel at 390, 394 and 446 Brayton Road would be clear-cut to make way for the 57.5 acres of solar panels, and another 12 acres would be selectively cleared. The project has been scaled down a bit from an initial proposal for 60 to 63 acres of solar panels.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, resident Susan Anderson said the town’s comprehensive community plan calls for minimizing clearing of land and said some 21 acres of farmland on the property should only be used, and the rest left untouched. She again said a quarry just down the road would be more appropriate for the solar farm.
“It’s an industrial solar power plant right in the middle of a neighborhood surrounded by trees and stone walls,” Anderson said of the Brayton Road Solar project.
Mancini took exception to it being called industrial.
“This is a by right project,” Mancini said of it complying with the former solar ordinance. “It’s not an industrial use, it’s not a power plant,” he said.
David Souza, a nearby landowner, pointed to a ruling by Newport Superior Court Judge Brian Van Couyghen last year that a solar farm proposal in Portsmouth that was approved by the town for an 8-acre solar farm on a 29-acre plot of land on Jepson Lane amounted to a manufacturing use in a residential zone, which is not allowed.
Souza asked why they had to cut down 60 acres of trees and said the town should be able to control it because clear-cutting that much “will change the whole environment.”
“That’s partly why we repealed the solar ordinance,” Chairwoman Gill said of the town scrapping the former ordinance to work on one that gives the town more control to preserve woodland and farmland.
The plan for Brayton Road Solar was submitted to the town just before the town council voted to repeal the solar ordinance, so it is grandfathered in.
Mancini said no law in Rhode Island allows a municipality to control what can be excavated or removed.
“We’re not here to destroy the land. We’re here to utilize it,” Mancini said.
The state recently released guidelines for renewable energy projects, Hardy said. “Those guidelines make it very clear we should not be clear-cutting forests,” he said, but instead use brown fields, former quarries, etc., for such projects.
The tree cutting aspect of the project “is the nature of the beast,” Mancini said of having to cut trees to install solar panels.
Resident Ron Marsh said he is in favor of renewable energy, but “the elephant in the room for this project is scores of acres of living forests are due to be destroyed,” he said of the “multiple football fields of trees” that would be felled, and urged the board to reject the plan because it is too big.
By Marcia Pobzeznik
Daily News staff writer