Following the recent passage of solar friendly bills by the RI legislature, commercial solar developers have descended upon rural areas like Hopkinton in a rush to install industrial scale solar power plants in open spaces, on premium soils and in residential neighborhoods.
The Town of Hopkinton, like many other rural Rhode Island Towns, is now UNDER SIEGE by opportunistic solar profiteers who are begging the town council to rezone property in rural residential zones all over town in order to usher in the installation of these massive facilities.
Collectively, these developer petitions to rezone large parcels of rural property have proposed to clear cut hundreds of thousands of trees; to bulldoze all of the natural contours of the land on these sites, creating a substantial risk of erosion; to install hundreds of thousands of 8 foot by 12 foot solar panels containing toxic metals, and dozens of electrical transformers containing thousands of gallons of chemical lubricants, over our vulnerable single source aquifer; and to surround all of the installations with a six foot high chain link fence.
The largest of these projects, Brushy Brook, which is currently in hearings before the Town Council, proposes to clear cut more than 35,000 trees over an area of 175 acres, on a 358 acre parcel, in order to install solar panels over a 122 acre "sea of glass." Brushy Brook would be the largest solar installation in New England.
Dozens MORE industrial scale solar projects are in the preliminary planning stage and/or rushing through the approval process.
No environmentalist advocates the destruction of habitat, the interruption of wildlife corridors, the clear cutting of standing forests or the retirement of scarce farm land to install industrial solar energy on green fields. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide. Cutting them down not only removes this benefit to the environment, but releases carbon back into the atmosphere when the wood is burned - which inevitably occurs.
These projects are NOT "green." There is no significant net environmental benefit to be realized from their installation - nor does anyone pretend that this is so.
The town's Comprehensive Plan defines the Town of Hopkinton as a rural, residential community with limited commercial space. As one Planning Board member recently stated: "This is by design - not by accident." Through a public hearing process, local residents approved and adopted the town's Comprehensive Plan in order to PRESERVE the rural character of the community, which is the fundamental reason why people live there.
The Hopkinton Planning Board has reviewed a series of these industrial scale projects and referred them all to the Town Council with a negative advisory opinion - recommending DENIAL of all of the requests - after determining that these developer proposals are "inconsistent" with the stated goals of the town's Comprehensive Plan for development and that they would unfairly violate the rights of abutters and residents through illegal "spot zoning."
Regrettably, a slim majority of hard core, pro-development town council members who are mesmerized by the prospect of accruing additional tax revenue for the town has IGNORED the adverse recommendations and strident warnings of the Planning Board - and the vehement protests from hundreds of their constituents - in a rush to approve these projects by any means.
This group of Town Council members, including the president, has continued to encourage these efforts by developers to industrialize Hopkinton in a chaotic fashion and has persisted in committing a host of illegal zoning practices, even after these violations have been explained to them in a detailed legal memorandum.
In this fashion, the Town Council has exceeded and abused its authority to rezone property and has effectively pursued a program of carving large swaths of rural property out of residential zones in Hopkinton, and providing developers with the required "spot zoning" of the property for commercial use, in exchange for an increase in town tax revenue from the projects.
These Town Council members are literally selling off pieces of the Future Land Use Map - our zoning map - to the highest bidder.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!
Because this slim majority of Town Council members stubbornly continues to ignore the Planning Board and to violate the integrity of the Comprehensive Plan and the planning process; and because the Town Council refuses to follow the constraints imposed upon this body by state and local statutes, ; the only remaining alternative available to Hopkinton residents is to ask a judge to intervene.
OUR PETITION TO SUPERIOR COURT FOR A DECLARATORY JUDGEMENT TO REVERSE, AND TO HALT, ILLEGAL ZONING PRACTICES BY TOWN OF HOPKINTON
We intend to file a complaint in Superior Court on behalf of the abutters and neighbors of several pending and future industrial solar projects, and on behalf of ALL Hopkinton residents.
Our complaint will seek a declaratory judgement and a court order to PROHIBIT the Town Council from continuing its current illegal practices, including, but not limited to, the flagrant exercise of spot zoning to facilitate the installation of industrial solar energy projects in residential zones.
We will also ask the Court to invalidate previous, improper rezoning approvals for industrial solar projects in which the Town Council failed to follow state law and local ordinances, exceeded its statutory authority and/or conditioned its approval on illegal prerequisite conditions.
We are not seeking to punish the Town of Hopkinton, nor are we seeking any damages. We are merely asking a judge to referee this dispute and instruct the Town Council to follow all applicable zoning laws.
Our goal is restore the integrity of the planning and zoning process; to support the Planning Board and its proper function in the planning and review process; and to preserve the rural character of Hopkinton.
The purpose of this campaign is to defray the legal expenses associated with our request to the court to have a judge step in, interpret the law, and end the exhausting process of contesting the improper actions of the Town Council, through endless rounds of public hearings on a never ending series of projects.
We are tired of playing "whack-a-mole" with each new rezoning proposal put forth by developers, who are currently operating with the certain knowledge that even though the Hopkinton Planning Board resolutely refuses to endorse or recommend these offensive projects, there is a nucleus of Town Council members who have made it clear that Hopkinton is "Open For Business" - if the price is right!
We have chosen to do a crowd funding campaign to publicize this crisis and to allow all Hopkinton residents to contribute to this important effort to preserve the character of Hopkinton.
We want to support the members of our community who are most threatened by current, and future, projects and we want to spread the cost of these necessary legal expenses over a large base, in order to minimize the burden on individual households.
This campaign is about neighbors helping neighbors in our local community - and helping themselves in the process, by obtaining a court order that will prohibit future abuses of our zoning laws, including spot zoning, to accommodate commercial solar developers.
As a community, we need abutters with legal standing who are willing to challenge these abuses; and they need us to support them and to help them carry the burden these legal expenses for the benefit of the entire community.
Our goal is to bring all Hopkinton residents together in this way, in a show of solidarity to STOP THE MADNESS.
We also encourage all Hopkinton residents to sign our ONLINE PETITION to the Hopkinton Town Council here:
KEEP HOPKINTON COUNTRY! SAY NO TO SPOT ZONING AND INDUSTRIAL SOLAR SPRAWL
Please encourage other residents in Hopkinton to JOIN this effort to preserve the rural character of Hopkinton.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR GENEROUS SUPPORT!
All unspent funds at the end of this campaign will be contributed to the HOPKINTON LAND TRUST, or other non-profit conservation organization dedicated to the preservation of undeveloped land in Hopkinton.
UPDATE: November 15, 2018
Here is an update on our recent progress and some additional information that the team at GoFundMe has asked me to provide.
Hopkinton Citizens for Responsible Planning (HCRP) is a group that was founded in July of this year by me and other Hopkinton residents to oppose improper spot zoning of commercial solar projects in rural, residential neighborhoods in Hopkinton, RI.
We joined together informally and contributed money privately to hire Attorney James Donnelly of Wakefield, RI to represent the interests of our group in public hearings by the Hopkinton town council to consider petitions by solar developers who requested that rural, residential property be rezoned for commercial use in order to accommodate the installation of their projects.
Initially, our group focused on a single project, but as similar applications from solar developers began to proliferate, the need to enlist the support of the entire community in contesting the threat of widespread solar sprawl became clear.
On October 7, 2018, we started a petition to educate other members of the community and enlist their support to oppose these improper rezoning requests. In a little over a month, our petition has been signed by 450 residents of Hopkinton.
On October 24, 2018, I began this campaign to raise money to pay legal expenses. All of the proceeds from this campaign have been directed to a dedicated bank account in my name at Citizens Bank that was established for this purpose last July. The bank will not open an account in the name of our group because we are not incorporated as a legal entity.
The funds for the campaign are not commingled with any personal funds and are dedicated to the payment of legal fees and related expenses, although it is possible that we may use some small portion of the funds to pay for signs and publicity in the future. Yesterday, we made the first and only payment out of the account since starting the crowd funding campaign, to Attorney James Donnelly of Wakefield, RI, who continues to represent our group.
On Tuesday evening, after significant preparation, Attorney James Donnelly made a presentation to the Hopkinton town council, during the hearings for the Brushy Brook project - one of three large commercial projects that have now entered the public hearing stage.
Attorney Donnelly did a very thorough job presenting the rights, interests and concerns of residents and their deep dissatisfaction with the town council's recent actions and their manner of operating.
He provided a detailed history of the town's Comprehensive Plan, the process through which it was developed, the applicable ordinances that support it and the conditions necessary to amend the Plan. The core of our complaint is the town council's failure to adhere faithfully to the goals of the Comprehensive Plan and its refusal to accept the planning board's vehement disapproval of all of these projects on the basis that they would do violence to the Comprehensive Plan.
Attorney Donnelly also made a detailed complaint to the town council concerning the breadth and depth of their unlawful conduct, corroborating all of his allegations with numerous substantive exhibits citing the applicable state laws and local ordinances. He reminded the town council members that these improper activities had all been brought to the attention of the council repeatedly since last August.
During the public comment period, I advised the town council that we have raised more than $20,000 from over 60 contributors - the town council's constituents - for the express purpose of contesting their actions which we believe to be harmful and unlawful. I also noted that we have gathered over 450 signatures from Hopkinton residents protesting their improper actions and begging them to stop.
Copies of the Exhibits that Jim provided to the town council are available for download here:
Exhibits Provided to Town Council
Your contributions have been used, and will continue to be used, to pay legal expenses for this ongoing work, including the presentation last evening, the imminent filing of a formal legal complaint and the filing of additional follow on complaints. Please keep in touch for further updates.
Thank you for your continued support!
BRUSHY BROOK - BEFORE CLEAR CUTTING 175 ACRES TO INSTALL A 122 ACRE "SEA OF GLASS"
Photo credit to Westerly Sun