Radio site’s solar farm meets resistance from Planning Council



09/15/2021

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Planning council members were less than enthusiastic last week about a proposal to develop the former WLKW radio station off Mattity Road into a solar farm and three lots of houses, asking the developer to address several concerns before coming back with updated plans next month.

Paul Vanasse of Andromeda Real Estate Partners presented the master plan request for “Broadcast Hill Estates” on Thursday, September 9th. The development would include a 2.8 megawatt solar farm and three lots of houses backing onto Mattity Road.

As Vanasse explained, the company bought the property after the radio station went bankrupt in 2014 with the initial intention of building 14 lots of houses. They then scrapped those plans after realizing that a beam array of copper wire under the remaining six radio towers would make it difficult for the site to develop.

“Under each of these towers there are 10 acres of reflective wires,” he told members of the Planning Council.

These threads were one of the main concerns raised by members of the board of directors. Vanasse said the company plans to remove the towers but leave the wires buried underground. Jeffrey Porter, a board member, said he was concerned this could lead to copper wires leaching into neighbors’ wells. A proposed well for one of the new lots of houses, he pointed out, is about 100 meters from the nearest tower.

“My biggest concern is the effect that the disturbance of all of this land will have on the water supply,” he said.

Members were also concerned about a plan to serve the three homes with a common driveway that could also serve as access to the solar farm. While the city’s subdivision regulations ban shared driveways, Vanasse said he embraced the idea at the suggestion of former city planner Tom Kravitz, who worried about vehicles exiting on a delicate stretch of Mattity Road. The shared driveway minimizes the number of new exit points on the road, but council members questioned whether it would be wide enough for emergency vehicles.

“I think from a public safety point of view, in this particular case, this is probably the best solution,” Vanasse said.

Member David Punchak described the plans as “messy” and asked for more details on access to the solar farm. City administrator Paul Zwolenski also spoke at the meeting, expressing concerns about the shared driveway and emergency access.

Although no residents were present, President Gary Palardy read a letter from Christopher Simpkins, a neighboring landlord who submitted written comments because he was unable to attend. Simpkins pointed out that his property, located at 409 Mattity Road, is contiguous on both sides by the proposed solar developments. The Broadcast Hill Estates and Gold solar farm proposals, he said, would be within 700 feet of each other, and both pose issues related to clearcutting, water disturbance underground and wildlife.

“The proximity of these two projects is alarming,” he said.

Simpkins urged board members to consider the cumulative effect of approving the two projects. A third project, he pointed out, is currently under review within half a mile of Burrillville.

Council members agreed to defer voting on the request until the October 14 meeting, when they plan to get further feedback from residents. They asked Vanasse to come back with more details on their concerns about buffering, emergency access, water quality, shared driveway, and interconnection with National Grid.


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