When the Warwick City Council City Council gave first passage earlier this summer to an solar ordinance drafted by the previous administration, they thought that like most ordinances on the floor …
When the Warwick City Council City Council gave first passage earlier this summer to an solar ordinance drafted by the previous administration, they thought that like most ordinances on the floor they would take a final vote on it in two weeks and it would likely pass without much debate.
That wasn’t the case.
The council faced concerns over solar developments in residential -zoned areas, prompting Mayor Frank Picozzi to request the council table the ordinance until he could bring on a new Planning Director following the departure of Principal Planner Lucas Murray.
Picozzi and the new Planning Director Tom Kravitz held a community-based workshop earlier this month to discuss the proposed ordinance and to solicit feedback from the community.
At the request of Picozzi the Council voted in favor of withdrawing the original solar ordinance during its meeting on Monday night and gave first passage for an up to six month moratorium for solar development while the administration crafts a new proposed solar ordinance.
“What is before us this evening is a moratorium which will allow additional time for review and input from all the stakeholders,” said Council President Steve McAllister.
He explained that the moratorium could end early if the administration presents an ordinance to the Council that they vote in favor of.
It could also be extended if a new ordinance isn’t enacted within six months and the Council agrees to do so. Kravitz said Wednesday the moratorium would apply to ground mounted arrays not residential or business roof top panels that property owners plan or have contracted to install.
“I believe this is a good compromise to start off,” McAllister said, noting that it gives them flexibility.
Because of the complexity that will come with crafting the ordinance and passing it, Councilman Vincent Gebhart said he would be open to the idea of having a nine-month moratorium instead of a six month one which led to the public in attendance to applaud with clapping.
Councilman Ed Ladouceur also agreed with that idea.
“I would completely support an amendment for a nine-month moratorium,” said Ladouceur. “I don’t think that's unreasonable because what we're talking about here is not just solar panels, it's about the future of our city, it's about the future of our people. It's about our children, our grandchildren, it's about the people who come after us.”
He also noted how significant the decision was that they would be making regarding the rules and regulations for solar in Warwick.
“This in my opinion is a life altering decision. This is a decision that could have an effect one way or another on our environment,” he said.
Later on in the meeting City Council Solicitor William Walsh explained that based on what other communities have been able to defend in court against those who challenged the legality of solar moratoriums he said that he would recommend staying with the six months.
Ladouceur said that based on that information he decided that it was best to stick with six months saying that he didn’t want to risk the whole moratorium being possibly thrown out in court.
No amendments were introduced.
Jane Austin, who wrote multiple letters to the editor in the Warwick Beacon and Providence Journal over the summer about the proposed solar ordinance is credited as one of the reasons why community members became aware of the issue and attended the Aug. 16 Council meeting where the solar ordinance was originally supposed to be passed.
Following Monday’s meeting she said she was pleased with what happened.
“I'm grateful for this new start and a new direction for solar siting in the City. Thank you to the Mayor and to the Council. I hope that the moratorium will give Warwick residents a real voice in shaping the City's solar future,” Austin said in a statement following the meeting. “Let's take advantage of the unique opportunities available in the City for accessory solar in commercial and industrial areas and protect the open space, natural resources, recreational assets and residential areas that define its character."
Because the moratorium needs a second passage in order for it to go into effect it means that developers would still have the opportunity to apply with the Planning Department before it is enacted.
But Picozzi said Tuesday morning that despite the rumors circulating about projects possibly happening at places like the West Valley Country Club and the YMCA, nothing official has been brought forward.
“There haven’t been any applications,” he said.
Picozzi said that the planning department and him are going to work on a new ordinance and said that he is “probably” going to have another community workshop on the topic.
“We got some good input from the last one,” he said.
The Council is expected to take a final vote on the moratorium during its Nov. 1 Council meeting.
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