Hopkinton Town Council passes amendments to solar energy systems ordinance | Richmond & Hopkinton

HOPKINTON — Members of the Town Council on Monday approved three amendments to the town’s photovoltaic solar energy systems ordinance while rejecting a motion to reopen the public hearing in order to consider amendments to the farm viability ordinance.

The Hopkinton Town Council voted 3-2, with Michael Geary and Scott Bill Hirst opposed, to approve amendments to Section 5 of Chapter 134 of the Zoning Ordinance, which impacts the district use table, and an amendment to Chapter 246 regarding non-residential photovoltaic solar energy systems. Geary and Hirst also pressed to reopen a public hearing to consider further amendments to the town’s farm viability ordinance, but were unsuccessful in garnering a third vote in support.

An amendment to Chapter 247 pertaining to the farm viability ordinance/farm-based photovoltaic solar energy systems passed unanimously.

The approvals came in a mostly uneventful meeting, but not before Hirst expressed concerns with the passage of the amendments and the lack of communication from Marvel as liaison to the Conservation Commission regarding the board’s opinion on the matter.

“I need to state my displeasure at Councilor Marvel,” Hirst said. “The Conservation Commission in December apparently had feelings about (this project) that weren’t transmitted to the Town Council. It’s unacceptable.”

Attorney Peter Skiwrz, who attended the meeting via Zoom on behalf of his clients, Tom and Cynthia Sculco, said just before the amendments were passed that his clients were willing to consider any necessary changes it would take to get the amendments passed.

“It’s really more of the council’s ordinance at this point, but anything that would garner the three votes it needs to get it passed is something we’d consider,” he said.

The changes come following a process that began in December when the Town Council first discussed the amendments, which were presented in a 22-page document seeking a comprehensive overhaul of the town’s photovoltaic solar energy systems (PSES) ordinance, which had last been amended in January 2019. The amendments were submitted by Skwirz on behalf of the Sculcos, who own a property that abuts the sites of two proposed commercial solar energy projects.

Council President Stephen Moffitt Jr. said in a February workshop when the amendments were crafted that the objective of the ordinance was to keep commercial-scale solar projects from being built in the town.

During the Feb. 16 workshop, Moffitt said a special-use permit would provide “another level of scrutiny.”

The amended ordinance would also limit the power-generating capacity of a residential, ground-mounted solar array to 125% of “the energy that is necessary to support the principal use of the parcel on which the solar system is located.”

“We are trying to have an ordinance that is not going to allow for any large-scale solar, so we’ve changed the district use table to reflect that,” Moffitt said. “We are not allowing large-scale solar, even in manufacturing [zones]. We are trying to stop industrial-sized solar in town.”

The amendments drew criticism, however, as several residents and town officials expressed concerns regarding the language and whether it could potentially be restrictive for residents in town, or how the amendments could potentially impact other properties in the community.

Questions surrounding the amendments also led to lengthy public hearings lasting over two hours on both March 1 and March 29 before the hearing was closed and the amendments ultimately passed.