Rochester Planning Board irons out details on solar project

Jul 9, 2019

ROCHESTER — Developers for a solar array on land that was once slated for a farm stand are inching along in their plans to generate power in the area.

Craig Canning owns the land at 0 Marion Road, and approached the Planning Board in 2018 with plans to develop a food processing building and market on the property.

Neighbors disliked the plans, calling them plans for an industrial facility in disguise, and filed lawsuits against Canning, forcing him to withdraw his permits.

In January, Canning came before the Planning Board again with a new proposal for the 60 acres he owns. A five megawatt, 8.81 acre solar farm.

The Natick-based SWEB Development USA, LLC is applying for a special permit for the project, and had previously reviewed the plans with Planning Board members.

On July 9, Sarah Rosenblat appeared before the board again, to respond to their requests and allow them to ask questions.

Though Planning Board Chair Arnold Johnson said he appreciated the work that SWEB has done so far he added that there is “still a little fine-tuning to do.”

Planning Board members were first concerned about builders removing large amounts of material during construction. Rosenblat clarified that the group had permission to move material on the property, but not to remove it.

The board asked that construction notes be updated to reflect this, as they are often cut and pasted, and language in the contract still allowed for material removal.

The board also took issue with the way that SWEB took sight lines, which are photos that show how much neighbors can see. These are supposed to be taken from neighbors’ front steps, but at least one was taken along the road.

Planning Board members also insisted that Canning put up a fence, at least for site visits. Rosenblat protested that he was extremely opposed to any fence that would interfere with his farming in the area.

“He can pick, the project or a couple of heads of cabbage,” Johnson said.

Planning Board members did eventually point out that the fence would not have to be anchored and could be moved about on sawhorses, but would need to be in place before a site visit.

Rosenblat said noise testing had shown that the array would not cause excessive sound, and would only produce about 61.6 decibels.

“Your voice is about as loud as this is going to be,” board member Ben Bailey said to Rosenblat.

Planning Board member Gary Florindo was concerned with runoff from the site, since the panels will change the even distribution of water when it rains, and might create channels.

“Eventually if you have silt runoff into the river, that’s a problem,” Florindo said.

“The site is vegetated under and around panels after construction and will be cleared just as needed” for construction, Rosenblat’s colleague Joanna Hall explained. The board also eventually determined that the site will have channels running North to South to handle runoff, which should help.

Johnson said that the Planning Board will need to review the easement to make sure that the town is named on it or given the authority to use the access road.

Rosenblat asked the board to continue the hearing to Aug. 13, which it did. Board members will check on SWEB’s progress at that point, and schedule a site visit at their last July meeting.