To the Editor:
“What a beautiful spot. I never knew this land was up here.”
That’s the kind of sentiment my husband and I regularly hear from first-time visitors to our small home in a private area off of Natick Avenue. When we were scoping out a new homestead 11 years ago, my husband, a lifelong Western Cranston resident, had trouble finding it. On one of the few visits my elderly father made the year before he passed away, he compared it to living in the wilds of New Hampshire but with the benefit of being minutes away from city conveniences.
To offer a glimpse of what my father experienced: This time of year, nearly every dawn and dusk, we are joined by a herd of deer searching for wintertime sustenance in the woods. We often see wild turkeys traipsing through our yard. And just last week, our next-door neighbor shot a video of a bobcat wandering through his.
When we purchased our two-acre property more than decade ago, we felt we hit the best-of-all-worlds jackpot – although the house and its surroundings did need a lot of work. After thousands of hours of my husband’s hard labor and even higher amounts of money invested, we can at long last take a deep breath and say we have the perfect spot for our daughter to finish her middle- and high-school years.
Unfortunately, all that is about to change, thanks to a city zoning ordinance that was passed three years ago – a decision that has since been recognized by many of the same people who passed it as being short-sighted – and language in a recently passed moratorium that permits the farm that abuts our property to continue its plans to destroy nearly 30 acres of forest in favor of erecting 30 acres of solar panels.
To make matters worse, as part of this huge development, National Grid will have to replace all the utility poles along a mile-long stretch of Natick Avenue with poles that are 10-15 feet higher – requiring further damage to even more trees, and disrupting this quiet neighborhood over the upcoming spring, summer and/or fall months. After the new poles are erected, the infrastructure will be in place for future development of solar arrays in the woods surrounding Natick Avenue, Wilbur Avenue, Phenix Avenue, Walden Woods – and on and on through Western Cranston, West Warwick, Coventry, etc.
And just to reiterate what’s been reported in the past: None of the energy generated by the project will benefit Cranston residents.
In a recent letter to the editor, president of Southern Sky Renewable Energy Ralph Palumbo said, “They [city officials] have developed a regulatory structure that strikes just the right balance between community needs and Cranston’s leadership in green development.” I call BS. There is no balance here – even city officials have since recognized that. This is about entrepreneurship, and not the good kind. This is about taking advantage of a bad zoning ordinance that puts developers’ interests far above those of individual city residents. There is a lot of money at stake, and as is the case in so many similar situations, that’s the driving force.
Both Director of City Planning Jason Pezzullo and Southern Sky’s attorney Bob Murray have forcefully contended that this sort of development is a perfectly legal, “by-right” opportunity for the property owner, Ron Rossi. Citizens, the only reason this is legal is due to that relatively new, misguided ordinance referenced earlier that is now being reconsidered, thanks to the moratorium. Murray contends that pulling the Natick Avenue project into the moratorium is “unfair” to the developers and Mr. Rossi, since the project had already received a certain measure of approval. How strongly does he feel about this? When City Council members considered adjusting the proposed moratorium language in a way that could have put the brakes on Natick Avenue, Murray threatened to sue.
And what about the neighbors? Where’s our fairness? If the city now recognizes that better rules need to be in place before forging ahead with solar development, shouldn’t that also apply to us?
While some City Council members have agreed with our position, they have also admitted that the city cannot afford a potentially costly lawsuit. And neighbors, that’s the only reason this project is still in play. It has nothing to do with fairness. Our goal is not to create animosity among our neighbors – Mr. Rossi has worked hard all his life and has every right to reap the riches his beautiful property affords. But is this the answer? A development firm swooping in to lease a large swath of that pristine land and turn it into what amounts to an industrial site in the middle of a residential neighborhood?
In a recent letter supporting opponents of the Natick Avenue project, Councilman Steven Stycos pointed out that, “Mayor Fung currently has no list of parcels Cranston wants to acquire, so when the state offers open space grants, other communities snatch up the money.” This is an alternative that could be explored in cases such as this. Why is the city not doing so?
As environmentalists ourselves, my husband and I fully support renewable energy where it makes sense – in landfills, brown fields, empty sites along highways. But not in the forests and farms of western Cranston.
Next Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m., the Cranston Planning Commission will decide whether the master plans for the Natick Avenue project get approved. This is an extremely important, public meeting. Please join us to demonstrate your opposition. A strong showing of strength from the community will send a powerful message that we care deeply about the future use of our city’s land.
Just because it’s “by-right” doesn’t mean it is right. Help us stop the Natick Avenue solar project.