Forum set on solar review

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A public workshop has been scheduled for May 13 as officials work to develop a revised ordinance governing large, commercial solar installations in the city.

Planning Director Jason Pezzullo said the gathering – which is being hosted by the Planning Commission and will begin at 5:30 p.m. at William Hall Library – will include a “brief presentation basically setting the stage about where we are right now.”

“This is really to hear from the public, really give them the floor and take the input,” he said.

The City Council in January approved an ordinance amendment instituting a nine-month moratorium on consideration of commercial-scale solar projects.

The move stemmed from widespread concerns from residents and officials over the proliferation of large solar installations in A-80 residential zones, specifically in Western Cranston. Existing rules also allow large-scale solar projects by right in S-1 open space zones and M-1 and M-2 industrial zones.

The moratorium’s language states that at the time of its adoption, the city had “received, vetted and legally permitted several large-scale ‘installations’ in the western portion of the community.”

“The existing regulatory framework under which these ‘installations’ are vetted has not been amended or comprehensively reevaluated since 2015,” the moratorium reads. “Existing ordinances, zoning regulations, and land development performance standards are fragmented and lacking several key provisions necessary to ensure the strictest standards for visual, aesthetic and neighborhood compatibility. Concerns have arisen from the general public and the state of Rhode Island as a whole about the degree of performance standards and siting concerns governing these ‘installations.’”

Pezzullo said in addition to city officials outlining the “parameters of what we’ve been working on” in terms of the revised solar ordinance proposal, he hopes the May 13 workshop will allow for some “back-and-forth discussions” regarding how the city ought to move forward.

Following the workshop, Pezzullo said the next step will be planning staff presenting a first draft of a revised solar ordinance before the Planning Commission. By July, he said, “we need to get some kind of a consensus together” in order to present an ordinance for consideration by the commission and the City Council before the expiration of the moratorium.

“There’s going to be lots and lots of discussion between now and when this is adopted,” he said.

In March, the moratorium survived an initial legal challenge brought in Superior Court by the developers of a proposed solar installation off Vaughn Lane in the city’s Fiskeville section.

The plaintiffs in the case – Fiskeville Realty Co. I LLC, Hexagon Energy LLC and Substrate Solar LLC – unsuccessfully sought a temporary restraining order preventing the city from enforcing the moratorium, arguing it had been enacted improperly and should not be applied to their project. The next court date in the case is scheduled for May 17.

In another matter, an administrative appeal related to Southern Sky Renewable Energy RI LLC’s planned 8.1-megawatt solar facility off Natick Avenue – which was the subject of intense debate and received approval through the city’s Planning Commission before the enactment of the moratorium – was set to be heard on the night of May 8, after the Herald went to press.

The appellants in the case, represented by Narragansett attorney Patrick Dougherty, argue that the Planning Commission improperly granted master plan approval for the project in February. The Zoning Board of Review, sitting as the Platting Board, is hearing the appeal.

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