Solar ordinance one vote away ... maybe?

Posted 3/10/22


Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladoucer is in his tenth year on the City Council and before Monday’s Council meeting he only recalls the Council Chamber being as full as it was …

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Solar ordinance one vote away ... maybe?



Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladoucer is in his tenth year on the City Council and before Monday’s Council meeting he only recalls the Council Chamber being as full as it was once.

The other time was when the community rallied in an attempt to save high school sports in Warwick.

Those in the audience weren’t protesting the possibility of losing sports, instead, for the most part, they were there to support passage of an ordinance that would restrict solar in residential zones and comprehensive plan amendments.

In the end the Council voted 7-0 for first passage of the ordinance, and comprehensive plan amendments. Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi and Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis were absent.

The solar ordinance process first began over the summer when the Council was one vote away from approving a previous drafted ordinance.

The final vote wasn’t taken because the  title of the ordinance wasn’t worded correctly on the legal notice.

At the same time the Council was facing concerns over solar developments in residential -zoned areas, which prompted 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.

Since  City Planner Tom Kravitz has come on board, a number of workshops have taken place to hear community members’ input on the ordinance. He said one of the first tasks he had when he came on board in October was to look at the original proposed ordinance and to see how it could be approved.

Ward 8 resident Bob Oberg said that after attending the different meetings, helping to rally neighbors, and giving input he is in full support of the ordinance. He was one of those who expressed his concerns about the original  proposed ordinance.

“In a time when so much of our public discourse is marred by cynicism and distrust, Warwick’s process for addressing this complex issue has been a model of civility and public inclusion,” said Oberg. “As someone who has never been involved in local politics, it has been a pleasant surprise to interact with the Mayor, Planning Director, Planning Board, and City Council, and to engage with so many passionate and knowledgeable residents.”

In January the Planning Board voted to send an advisory opinion to the Council recommending a proposed solar ordinance, which is what the Council voted on Monday night.

Before the public comment began, Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix, Ward 3 Councilman Tim Howe, Ladouceur and Ward 9 Councilman Vincent Gebhart all said they were in support of the ordinance.

“The process as a whole has made me really proud as a city and proud of our residents,” said Gebhart.

He said he  was “happy to be here tonight to support this measure.”

One of the biggest differences between the ordinance voted on Monday and the one over the summer is the new proposal doesn’t allow for large scale solar development in residential areas.

ISM Solar CEO Greg Lucini said that his company had plans to develop solar on part of the Greater Providence YMCA (Kent YMCA) and the Little Rhody Beagle Club  properties. If the Council gives second passage to the ordinance on the table it wouldn’t be a permitted use.

“For the last three years, we have worked transparently with members of the City Council, the City’s administration, local stakeholders, and neighbors in the Cowesett community to put forward a responsible solar development that would preserve the footprint of the Cowesett neighborhood, reduce Warwick ratepayers’ reliance on National Grid, promote energy independence for the City of Warwick, and protect against over development,” said Lucini.

“For the bulk of that time, we have had support for our proposal and have enjoyed collaborative relationships with both former Mayor Solomon and current Mayor Picozzi and their respective planning departments.”

Lucini said, “If the ordinance being discussed today were to pass, both the YMCA and the Beagle Club have indicated that they would be forced to consider proposals from other developers, likely to include large out-of-state residential developers who are already pursuing the Allen property that immediately abuts the YMCA.”

“Should those developments go forward, Cowesett residents could face years of construction (that would include heavy blasting), decades of congestion from nearly 500 single family homes and apartment units, thousands of additional vehicle trips daily, and a permanent loss of trees and wildlife,” said Lucini. “City services to support residential development would cost Warwick taxpayers millions of dollars per year. And the large, out-of-state residential developers who would pursue this land would clear-cut acreage and pave over wooded land for driveways, parking lots, and a major cut-through road connecting Centerville Road/Rt. 117 and Cowesett Road.”

Before reading a letter into the record on the behalf of Col. Steven O’Donnell, the CEO for the YMCA of Greater Providence said he agreed with the comment made by Ladouceur that the meeting was a good example of Democracy.

“The problem is though that Democracies only work when those who are involved and entitled to vote whether  they are the residents or in the case the City Council have all the facts because if they are voting based upon incorrect assumptions that’s dangerous that’s what happens in Russia,”

said Lucini. “That’s a problem.”

Howe pushed back on the claim.

“ I didn’t appreciate you coming into this chamber where we have citizens in a democracy speaking and having a voice on something that is written,”

said Howe. “I especially didn’t like the fact that you compared us to a country that is currently invading and bombing and killing innocent civilians.”

In his letter to the Council O’Donnell said  “I write to respectfully request that the Council delay taking any action on the proposed solar ordinance until you and your colleagues have the opportunity to tour the proposed solar development at our Kent location and consider the impacts of potential dense residential construction.”

O’Donnell said that for “the last several years, we have been working with ISM Solar on a land lease that would create a responsible solar development on unutilized land that we own, and this would provide the YMCA with needed revenue to support our robust community programming. This development would preserve the footprint of the Cowesett neighborhood, maintain community access to safe walking trails, and protect the community against overdevelopment, sprawl, and congestion. “

“In recent month, we have been approached by a large, out-of-state developer interested in building an access road to support and accelerate a large-scale residential development to our east. The YMCA’s clear preference is to proceed with the ISM Solar project and protect the local neighborhood from overdevelopment,” said O’ Donnell.  “However, if the solar project does not move forward, the YMCA will be forced to consider alternative development proposals which are more likely to require heavy construction and blasting that would last several years. This could place a heavy burden on the local neighbors while development is ongoing. This would likely require the construction of a new main road connecting Centerville Road/Rt. 117 and Cowesett Road. “

Jane Austin, who has been vocal throughout the process, said she was in favor of the ordinance. Some of the items in the ordinance that she pointed as liking include:

Takes a balanced, strategic City-wide approach

Provides ample opportunity for solar development

Protects neighborhoods, open space, forested areas, and farmland

Reflects citizen wishes for community character 

Draws on experiences of other RI communities

Is consistent with Statewide energy goals and siting recommendations

One last vote 

 As the Council and community previously learned anything can happen between the vote for first and second passage including the vote not happening at all.

At the time of publication it was undetermined when the second vote would take place.

ISM is hopeful to have one last chance before a vote is taken. 

Following the meeting Mike Raia a spokesperson for ISM Solar said “ISM Solar appreciated the opportunity to address the Council last night. We thank members of the community for their cordial and spirited testimony through the evening.” 

“We are disappointed in the vote and worry that the Council’s action could have unintended consequences that could harm the City’s ability to preserve undeveloped land,” said Raia. “We hope to host Council President McAllister and his colleagues for a walking tour of our proposed development at the YMCA and Beagle Club before they schedule a second vote on the solar ordinance. In the meantime, we will continue to assess our options.”

solar, energy


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