Solar developer appeals zoning board's denial of special permit in Johnston
JOHNSTON — The developer of a proposed solar farm on mostly wooded land in the northwestern section of town has appealed the Zoning Board’s rejection of the project, saying the proponents presented more than enough evidence to prove their case and the board’s decision was “unreasoned and unsubstantiated.”
That decision in late April came after an evening meeting with eight hours of testimony, ending at 2:30 the next morning.
Details of the proposal – and of a raucous meeting that prompted officials to call in several Johnston police officers to monitor the proceedings – were detailed in a Hummel Report investigation published last month in The Providence Sunday Journal.
Green Development of Cranston wants to install 90,000 solar panels spread over 40% of the land and has already sunk $2.5 million into developing the proposal. Because it’s in a residential area, the developers needed a “supermajority” of four votes from the five-member Zoning Board to grant a special-use permit. They fell short when two members voted against, while three voted to approve.
“I’m disappointed in the decision,” said lawyer John O. Mancini, who filed the appeal in Superior Court on Friday. “We took a long time developing the record, because we believe it’s a good project. The record supports issuing the special use permit.”
Mancini spent more than three and a half hours presenting Green’s case during a hearing that began just after 6:30 p.m. on April 28. He noted in his appeal that experts in the environment, land use, real estate and landscaping, as well as a professional engineer, testified about various components of the proposal. He also walked the board through a 75-page PowerPoint presentation, taking questions along the way.
“The Zoning Board decision fails to set forth adequate findings of fact and conclusion of law and is not substantiated by the record,” Mancini wrote in his appeal.
At the end of the meeting in April, the board’s vice chairman, Anthony Pilozzi, made a motion to approve the project. He said that Green had met all of the requirements for a special use permit, despite an extensive rebuttal presentation by Matthew Landry, a lawyer hired by neighbors opposed to the plan.
Sixteen of the 75 neighbors who attended the meeting waited until 12:30 a.m to address the board. They unanimously told members that they opposed the project.
Zoning Board members Richard Fascia and Richard Lobello voted against granting the special use permit, while Pilozzi, Chairman Thomas Lopardo and Dennis Cardillo voted in favor.
Landry told The Hummel Report Monday that he would have been surprised if Green had not appealed, given its investment in the plan. But he disagreed with Mancini’s assessment of the decision.
“The board had extensive testimony and ample time to evaluate it and they asked questions,” Landry said. “They had sufficient information to render a decision.”
Mancini said: “The decision is faulty because it doesn’t support a denial. To put it in layman’s terms, they didn’t land any punches.”
The town, its finance director and members of the Zoning Board are named as defendants. The board’s lawyer, Joseph R. Ballirano, will have 20 days to respond. The neighbors will have to decide whether to ask the court to be allowed in as intervenors.
The appeal is likely to play out into next year. In the majority of zoning appeals, if a judge finds error in the Zoning Board’s decision, they will send it back to the board for another hearing.
The transcript from the hearing, which will be part of the appeal, is 334 pages.