Johnston Zoning Board considers same old solar development, with a slightly smaller scope

STOP JOHNSTON SOLAR: '157+ forested acres will be destroyed to install 46,000+ solar panels'

Posted 9/21/23

Next Thursday the Johnston Zoning Board will hear from developers who want to build a slightly smaller 157-acre solar farm along Winsor Avenue.

“I would say if they’re going back to …

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Johnston Zoning Board considers same old solar development, with a slightly smaller scope

STOP JOHNSTON SOLAR: '157+ forested acres will be destroyed to install 46,000+ solar panels'


Next Thursday the Johnston Zoning Board will hear from developers who want to build a slightly smaller 157-acre solar farm along Winsor Avenue.

“I would say if they’re going back to the Zoning Board it’s with a new plan,” Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena responded via email over the summer when asked about the new proposal, which had originally been slated to come before the board in July. “Since there’s not much else that can change, the new plan is probably smaller in size and may be different in layout. There is nothing to legally prevent them from proposing a new plan.”

Not every town official agrees with that assessment.

The solar project is slated for “new business” discussion at 6:30 p.m. during the Sept. 28 Johnston Zoning Board meeting.

Town Councilman Robert J. Civetti said the “Winsor III Solar Farm Proposal ... will consume a large forested Area in District 5.” Civetti represents District 5 on Town Council.

“Since the Mayor is no longer using the Sun Rise to advertise meetings and most people in Town no longer read the Providence Journal, many are not aware of the upcoming meeting,” Civetti wrote earlier this summer. “People need to know that only one year of time has passed since our Marathon Zoning meeting which lasted over 8 hours and was attended by over 100 angry residents, (and) the Zoning Board and Green Development is bringing this project back to the table.”

(Editor’s Note: The town of Johnston did advertise a Sept. 21 Zoning Board special meeting in the Johnston Sun Rise on Sept. 7. That legal advertisement was initially slated to run the next two weeks, but was canceled. Both the Sept. 21 and Sept. 28 Zoning Board agendas have been uploaded to the Rhode Island Secretary of State Open Meetings website, but have not been advertised in the Johnston Sun Rise. )

The “marathon meeting” was held in April 2022.

The new project seeks a special use permit to develop a 19-megawatt (MW) solar field on a more than 160-acre parcel at 118 Winsor Avenue (AP 59, Lot 15). The plot is located in the northwest section of Johnston, about a half-mile from the Smithfield and Scituate town borders.

According to a paid advertisement by a neighborhood group formed in opposition to industrial solar development on residential property (the ad appears on Page 11 of this week’s Johnston Sun Rise), “157+ forested acres will be destroyed to install 46,000+ solar panels.”

The group encourages Johnston residents to attend next Thursday’s meeting (the Zoning Board is also meeting Thursday, Sept. 21, but the solar development is not currently listed on that meeting’s agenda).

“Attend the Zoning Board Meeting to put your objection on record,” urges the “Stop Johnston Solar” group’s advertisement.

Civetti says the project shouldn’t be up for new discussion for at least another year.

“The Town’s zoning Ordinance is clear that a project cannot be heard again until two years has passed unless significant changes have been made to the plan and in that event a one-year wait period is applied,” Civetti said in July. “I am by no means an expert on … reviewing these plans but there does not appear to be a significant change to these plans since the last time they were presented. The residents need to know that this is back in front of the Zoning Board and that one of the Zoning Board Members that voted against this project last time is conveniently no longer a member of this Board.”

The current Zoning Board of Review includes the following members: Chairman Thomas Lopardo, Anthony Pilozzi, Joseph Anzelone, Charles Ainabe and Richard Fascia (with alternates Dennis Cardillo and Albert Colannino).

In May 2022, Bill Fischer, spokesperson for Green Development LLC, said “all of our options are being evaluated,” when asked if the company would litigate the matter (Fischer serves as president of True North Communications).

“We are certainly disappointed in the outcome of the vote of the zoning board, as Green made a conscious effort to ensure the design of the projects satisfied all of the town’s zoning and subdivision regulations, while complying with the town’s comprehensive plan,” Fisher wrote more than a year ago. “Green spent a significant amount of resources, energy and time to assemble a well-versed team of experts — who did a tremendous job at the hearing — giving zoning board members the evidence they needed to approve the project. Unfortunately, the town lost the opportunity to protect hundreds of acres of land for generations to enjoy as public space. Not to mention, the financial benefits the proposal was providing the town for the next 25 years.”

Green Development executives have donated thousands of dollars to Polisena’s campaign fund.

The Winsor Avenue land is owned by the Steere Family Trust (c/o Suzanne T. Valeriana). Green Development chairman and founder Mark DePasquale co-signed the most recent zoning petition application form, dated June 9 of this year.

“Our plan would have ensured these properties never became housing developments and we worked in a spirit of cooperation with the Land Trust and the town to ensure these acres would be protected and accessible to the public, on day one,” Fisher wrote in May 2022. “Anyone who believes this area is currently designated as open space is misinformed and quite frankly anyone utilizing the land for recreational purposes is trespassing on private property. We continue to believe in the merits of the project and although we are disappointed in the outcome, we are not dissuaded from evaluating our options moving forward.”

Fisher did not respond by press-time to a request for comment on the newly pending special use permit.

According to a review of the special use permit application prepared by JDL Enterprises, of Westerly, and submitted with the newest zoning application, the proposed site “is the location of a historic farmstead surrounded by agricultural fields to the north, south, and east situated on the top of Sikkibunkiaut Hill.”

The site contains a Rhode Island Historical Cemetery and “isolated pockets of wetland.”

“This project was previously submitted for Master Plan review and Special Use Permit in May of 2022,” according to JDL Enterprises. “The Master Plan was unanimously approved by the Town Planning Board. The Zoning Board voted 3-2 for granting the Special Use Permit; however a 4-1 vote was required for approval and therefore the project was denied.”

The report notes the “particular concern” of “cutting and clearing of existing trees, construction disturbance and duration, unease for surface runoff and erosion potential, and visual degradation of the natural landscape aesthetic.”

“Green has considered these concerns and modified the original Master Plan proposal to address them,” according to the application memo. “Green has reduced the proposed solar development from 24 MW to 19MW, a 20% reduction in overall panel surface area. Panels were selectively removed from areas in proximity to neighboring properties as well as the Scituate Reservoir watershed, which reduces the overall impact of the proposed solar site, and increases the distance from panels to existing homes.”

To conclude the report, in all capital letters, Joseph D. Lombardo, president of JDL Enterprises, assures the Zoning Board that the proposal is consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan, meets all criteria and that the Zoning Board “should grant” the application.

Wayne Forrest, one of the residents helping to organize opposition to the Winsor solar projects (the old one and the new one), plans to attend next week’s meeting.

 “The issues at next Thursday’s zoning board meeting are the same as last year,” he said Wednesday. “Residents who live next to and nearby this land don’t want to see their property values decrease, their daily quality of life deteriorate and suffer, or the destruction of 150 acres of woodlands and wildlife habitat. It is painfully obvious that will happen, if the board approves the zoning variance.”

Forrest also attended and spoke at last year’s marathon meeting, when his side technically prevailed (but the ultimate resolution headed toward still unresolved litigation).

“An approval also could set a dangerous precedent whereby any developer could buy open space zoned for residential use and approach the zoning board for a zoning variance to put up a commercial or industrial development,” Forrest warned his neighbors. “A developer could argue if the board does it for power-generating solar panels in this case, it would have to approve similar applications. Next thing you know, all the town’s green space is gone. The bottom line is solar panel projects belong on land zoned for commercial and industrial use, not in residential neighborhoods or if it means the destruction of woodlands and open space. Quality of life is important to everyone in town. That’s why we are here. We want a town to be proud of and we want our town officials do the right thing for all of us.”

BACK ON THE TABLE: This solar project is slated for “new business” discussion at 6:30 p.m. during the Sept. 28 Johnston Zoning Board meeting. Go to for all the details.


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