NORTH SMITHFIELD – Three months after the Zoning Board unanimously rejected a plan to build a wind turbine at 810 Old Smithfield Road, the developer is back with a new plan for the property, this time to construct a solar farm.
Green Development, the company formerly known as Wind Energy Development, has submitted an application to build a two-megawatt solar farm on a 53-acre site owned by the Pacheco family. The site, according to the application, is located in a partially wooded, partially open field area behind the family’s homes on Old Smithfield Road.
The latest plan comes after a years-long debate over a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine proposed by the same company. In July, the Zoning Board unanimously rejected the turbine plan after it drew fierce opposition from neighbors. Residents of Old Smithfield Road expressed fears about declining property values and the health impacts of the noise and shadow effect caused by a working turbine.
The new plan, as the application notes, comes with minimal concern for the impact on neighbors, as it won’t be visible from neighboring properties.
The panels will stand no more than 15 feet in height, as compared with the 462.5 feet that had been planned for the turbine. The project will also include replanting of some wooded areas as pollinator habitat, a vegetation mix expected to support beekeeping activities on the property.
The submitted plan was dated Oct. 7, the same day the Town Council voted to issue an emergency moratorium against new solar applications. As a result, Town Planner Tom Kravitz noted in a letter to the applicant, the application will not be certified as complete and forwarded to the Planning Board for consideration until after the moratorium ends on Dec. 2. Any changes to the town’s solar ordinance made during the moratorium period will apply to the project.
The moratorium was passed at the request of members of the Planning Board, several of whom expressed concern that the town’s current solar ordinance does not adequately address the increasing number of solar applications in recent years. In particular, a 39-megawatt solar farm proposed by Green Development for a separate property on Iron Mine Hill Road has drawn criticism from residents and environmental groups for its forested location.
Other solar farms proposed in recent months include two farms on Douglas Pike and another on Greenville Road.
Planning Board members met last week to discuss potential changes to the ordinance and are expected to forward their recommendations to the Town Council within the next month.
Though the Old Smithfield Road solar array would be located on the same land previously targeted for a wind turbine, the turbine application is not completely dead.
In September, the company and the Pacheco family filed a lawsuit in Superior Court appealing the Zoning Board’s decision.
The suit alleges the board’s decision, issued after nearly 10 hours of testimony, was a “clear abuse of discretion” made in violation of the town’s own ordinances.
According to Craig Berke, spokesperson for the judiciary, the town has until Nov. 1 to submit a response to the appeal.
By LAUREN CLEM, Valley Breeze Staff Writer