WARWICK, RI — With City Planner Tom Kravitz’s solar workshop on his suggested changes to the solar ordinance delivered, he invited public comment and suggestions for additional changes.
The comments ranged from adding language encouraging commercial solar and discouraging placement that would clear trees and compromise open space, to pleas to the officials to follow up the language with assurances that the ordinance would not be circumvented with variance applications.
At two points during the workshop, members of the crowd, most of whom were not wearing masks, told speakers to remove their masks instead of speaking up. The speakers complied each time, adding to their risk of infection from the highly transmissible Delta COVID-19 variant, responsible for many break-through infections of fully vaccinated people, as well as a recent surge in COVI-19 hospitalizations and deaths nation-wide.
Both Kravitz and Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi told the workshop audience that anyone has the right to apply for a variance. Kravitz, in fact, had just finished explaining how his changes to the ordinance would protect the community’s interest by making commercial solar the least restrictive route.
Within the ability allowed by law, Kravitz and Picozzi were open to suggestions.
Bob Oberg, who lives near Valley Country Club said the ordinance should state, “The goal of the ordinance is to protect Warwick’s natural resources, including open space, farm land, forests and other valuable habitat, by siting solar energy in locations that minimize environmental impacts and discourage the loss of natural resources. Oberg said he and his neighbors are concerned about the rumored sale or lease of the country club’s property for solar use.
Then, Oberg said, the ordinance should spell out what it does want, by saying, “The city encourages the development of solar and commercial energy on commercial, industrial and developed land and on other locations such as closed land fields, brow fields.parking lots, commercial and residential rooftops, and the like.
“That’s very good. That’s Two A and B in your document,” Kravitz said.
“What Bob’s talking about is statement of purpose. He’s right we can add that in, that would be really good,” Kravitz said.
Oberg added that he and other residents are concerned that property owners with large parcels of open space are waiting for the ordinance to take effect so they can apply for variances to skirt the prohibitions.
“We’re concerned that, one by one, all of these valuable spaces are going to be taken up,” Oberg said.
Bob said that if the point of the ordinance is to discourage residential or open space land, something should be added to the bill to discourage it. His said there should be an equal amount of land preservation written in for solar developments that eliminate open space.
“So if someone’s going to build a solar array on open space of 60 acres, they have to set aside 60 acres of land under conservation easements,
Michelle Komar suggested that the updates be discussed at a new Warwick City Council meeting with its own public notice, even though previous public notices for the issue have already satisfied the letter of the law for public notice.
“There’s no reason to rush something that we want to get right,” said Councilman Vinny Gebhardt, earning applause.
A copy of the handout from the meeting is embedded at the following link:
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