To the Editor: This letter is in response to the now two-year-long debate surrounding the Natick Avenue commercial-scale solar development. The project, which is still winding its way through many levels of city approvals, will clear-cut nearly 30 acres
To the Editor:
This letter is in response to the now two-year-long debate surrounding the Natick Avenue commercial-scale solar development. The project, which is still winding its way through many levels of city approvals, will clear-cut nearly 30 acres of natural woodland to make way for an industrial park composed of hundreds of solar panels.
While the city has rightly abolished the ill-conceived ordinance that allowed for such large-scale solar developments in residential areas, Natick Avenue was grandfathered and permitted to proceed. This is despite the fact that nearly everyone – including many city officials – agrees that it is a wholly inappropriate use of land in this quiet and picturesque neighborhood.
When I originally set out to write this letter two weeks ago, my intent was to voice concern over Master Plan approval conditions that seem to have inexplicably morphed over time to favor the developers and landowner. Since then, I have witnessed two meetings with city officials – one, a marathon five-hour session with the dedicated volunteers of the Planning Commission – in which committee members heard the voices of many concerned citizens and consequently delayed the decision-making until more information could be gathered.
So now I’d like to simply say thank you to those citizens who spoke up during the meetings and to the committee members who are thoughtfully and carefully working through the many issues – and to share an update with the community.
As it stands today, four concerns still weigh heavily upon the neighborhood:
1) The effect of the solar development on our property values. Last fall, the University of Rhode Island released a report demonstrating the negative impacts of these projects on the market value of surrounding homes. Those who live within one-tenth of a mile of the development can expect an average decrease of 7 percent in their property values – which would amount to tens of thousands of dollars in losses for EACH of the 104 affected homeowners in Cranston.
Just like the property owner who stands to make a lot of money from leasing his farmland to the developers, my husband and I hope that our home will one day help us afford a comfortable retirement. While it’s true that “forever homes” (to use the term of one Planning Commissioner) are primarily emotional investments, they are also significant resources that can make or break a family’s financial success. For many people, a home is their single largest investment.
2) The impacts of blasting on surrounding properties. The land in the Natick and Phenix Avenue area is rife with interconnected ledge, which means blasting in one area will almost certainly affect others. For example, on my property, we have a 50-year-old detached storage garage approximately 100 feet from the development zone, as well as a 7-year-old, above-ground pool, a well, a decades-old septic system, and the house foundation itself. What recourse do we have if any of this is damaged?
When I raised this concern at a recent Planning Commission meeting, the developers replied by saying they “have insurance.” Was I supposed to be reassured by this answer? Insurance means we would have to submit and likely fight a claim. That sounds like a David-and-Goliath scenario in the making.
Even more concerning is the fact that a long stretch of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) runs along the southern border of the blasting zone. (The developers have tried to assure the public they are working with the TGP to ensure safety.)
3) The landscaping “buffer zone.” As part of the project, the developers and landowner are required to provide an adequate visual buffer, comprised of native species of trees and shrubs, between the adjacent properties and the chain link fence surrounding the solar field. This part of the project has undergone months of discussion, debate, and analysis. Although several key issues remain unresolved, one in particular stands out: How long will the landowner be responsible for ensuring the vegetation thrives?
The current plan holds the warranty period at three years; however, residents have questioned this condition. Why just three years? What if the vegetation dies off after that period? Many of us believe the commitment should be required for the duration of the project (currently at least 25 years). If the buffer is intended to block the horrific view of this industrial site from our back yards – and most important, is a required condition of approval of the project – shouldn’t it remain so for as long as the solar array exists?
4) Miles of new utility poles affecting a large swath of Western Cranston. One factor that has emerged more recently is the extent of the construction of new and replaced utility poles, which are required from Natick Avenue all the way to the interconnect at Hope and Lippett. These poles are much taller than what currently exists on those roads, replete with large transformers and other types of equally unsightly electrical equipment that we are simply not used to seeing. I ask my fellow neighbors – is this the type of “progress” you want to see when you walk out your front door?
For more than two very long years, this project has been discussed and debated, countered and continued. Like everyone involved, my husband and I would like nothing more than for it to be resolved, once and for all. We fully support renewable energy where it belongs – in brownfields, open areas alongside highways, etc. We never wanted to create trouble for anyone, particularly our neighbors; we purchased this home because it was a quiet, secluded spot to raise our daughter. However, we have found that every time we begin to relent, trusting that our interests are being protected, a new curveball is tossed into the mix. And once again, we feel compelled to respond.
It’s exhausting. But most of all, it’s really unfortunate. By sheer dumb luck of a grandfathered project, one family’s (and one company’s, as well as its attorney’s) gain could very well mean a big loss for so many others – and for the city of Cranston at large.