New solar proposal on Marion Road causes a stir

Jan 22, 2019

ROCHESTER — After plans for a farmers market on Marion Road were withdrawn following backlash last year, the Planning Board heard a proposal for a solar farm on the same 60-acre lot — which didn’t appeal to some neighbors.

On Tuesday, the Planning Board learned about plans for the solar project on land referred to as Rochester Farms, which is owned by Craig Canning.

Canning approached the town last year to build a farmers market on the land, but withdrew the plans after neighbors filed lawsuits. Plans had called for two buildings on 4 acres of the property: two 7,200 square foot buildings for food processing and an open-floor-plan market.

Despite support from the Planning Board and many residents, Canning nixed plans for the market, saying it was no longer financially feasible.  

Developers presented the board with a project that, they say, should cause less backlash with neighbors. Despite those efforts, some homeowners expressed dissatisfaction. Neighbors agreed that the solar project would be ugly to look at and that they would be losing greenery in the area.

Sarah Rosenblat, of SWEB Development, the firm building the solar project, said that they would build a security fence and plant trees around the permitter to hide the panels. However, neighbors said it might not be enough — one resident choked up while she spoke. 

“It sucks, I’m not going to object to it as far as what Mr. Canning wants to do with his land,” said Dolores Demier. “But, I’m so upset about this, to think that one friggin’ family blocked the beautiful view we were going to have.”

Rosenblat said that they would build the panels low to the ground so that they would be hidden behind the 8-foot security fence. Though the fence turns into chainlink at points, she pointed out that greenery can be added to decrease visibility.

“There is going to be nothing shown outside of the fence, it’ll all be hidden,” said Rosenblat.

Vice Chair Gary Florindo suggested that additional trees could be planted to improve the appeal of the site. Rosenblat said that the company is willing to work with neighbors.

Another neighbor said he was worried that he would see the panels from his property. He said he was willing compromise on the issue, but wanted some input on additional greenery in the area. 

“We have done screening agreements with other neighbors as well,” said Rosenblat. “We’re certainly willing to make sure you are comfortable with how it looks, even if it means we plant things on your property as well.”

Demier said that she was worried about an increase in traffic for the area, but Chair Arnold Johnson said the site will likely become a “ghost town” after construction. 

SWEB Development will continue through the site plan review process through the board, and will pursue a payment in lieu of taxes agreement through the town, said Johnson.