County Superior Court
Plaintiff: Joelle C. Rocha, Esq.
Defendant: William Landry, Esq. Andrew Tugan, Esq.
States Investment & Development Corporation (hereinafter,
the Appellant) appealed from a decision of the City of
Cranston Zoning Board, sitting as the Platting Board of
Review of the City of Cranston (hereinafter, the Platting
Board). The Platting Board's Decision (hereinafter, the
Decision) unanimously upheld the January 14, 2016 decision of
the City Plan Commission of the City of Cranston
(hereinafter, the Plan Commission) granting combined
Master/Preliminary approval to an application for approval of
a proposed solar energy array, named Hope Farm 10 MW Solar
Array (hereinafter, the Solar Array), to Daniel Pagliarini
(hereinafter, Mr. Pagliarini) and RES America Development,
Inc. (hereinafter, RES). The Appellant timely appealed the
Platting Board's Decision to this Court pursuant to G.L.
1956 § 45-23-71.
Pagliarini is the owner of the subject property located at
840 Hope Farm Road, Cranston, Rhode Island, and otherwise
known as Lot 12 on Assessor's Plat 23 and Lot 66 on
Assessor's Plat 24. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Collectively, the
combined parcels contain approximately seventy-five acres.
(Certified R., Item J, at 5.) The property is zoned A-80 and
solar farm arrays are a permitted use in the A-80 zone.
(Certified R., Item A, at 21.) The majority of the property
has operated as a commercial nursery and is partially planted
with corn. (Certified R., Item D, at 1.) An electric
transmission line runs through the eastern portion of the
property in a right-of-way of National Grid. Id.
November 16, 2015, Mr. Pagliarini and RES submitted a
Master/Preliminary Plan application to the Plan Commission
seeking approval of the Solar Array. (Certified R., Item A,
at 10.) The proposal is for a 10-megawatt solar array
consisting of 938 ground-mounted solar panels, a gravel
driveway providing access to the equipment, a security fence,
and stormwater management areas. Id. Each panel is
11' x 63', for a total surface area of 650, 034
square feet or 14.9 acres. Id.
December 1, 2015, the Plan Commission held a hearing on both
the Master Plan application and the Preliminary Plan
application. (Certified R., Item H.) The documents before the
Plan Commission included a project narrative prepared by the
project engineers, a Stormwater Management Report, a Long
Term Stormwater Management System Operation and Maintenance
Plan and Source Control and Pollution Prevention Plan, and a
Soil and Erosion and Sediment Control Plan. (Certified R.,
Items A, E, F, and G.)
Starbuck (hereinafter, Mr. Starbuck), an engineer with VHB,
was the project manager on the project and testified, among
other things, that all of the construction proposed is
"within existing disturbed farm areas, agricultural
areas" and outside of the wetlands. (Certified R., Item
H, at 9-10.) Further, Mr. Starbuck confirmed that "[t]he
entire area that we're working is currently agricultural
farmland." Id. at 34-35. Mr. Starbuck's
testimony also affirmed that a "drainage analysis
consistent with the Rhode Island DEM ground storm water
design and installation standards manual" was completed
and that the analysis "complies with all the
requirements of that manual." Id. at 35. In
regard to footings for the project, Mr. Starbuck testified
that years from now, the footings could be pulled up and
nothing would be left in the ground, other than underground
conduit for the electrical services, which could also be
removed. Id. at 44.
Principal Planner Jason Pezzullo (hereinafter, Mr. Pezzullo)
presented the findings of a detailed City Planning Department
Staff Report, which recommended that the Plan Commission
approve the Master/Preliminary Plan. (Certified R., Item A,
at 21; Item H, at 87-89.) The City Planning Department Staff
Report noted that "[a] meadow will be established under
the solar array that can better support meadow
wildlife." (Certified R., Item A, at 14.) The Staff
Report further opined that "[t]he majority of the
existing agricultural areas onsite have been tilled and
predominately do not have existing vegetation", but that
these areas of erosion will be "restored with permanent
vegetation that will remain for the life of the project,
" thereby improving the habitability of the area for
meadowland wildlife. Id. at 13-14.
Lapolla (hereinafter, Mr. Lapolla), the City's Planning
Director, testified extensively about the solar farm's
consistency with the Comprehensive Plan. His testimony will
be discussed in greater detail below. The Plan Commission had
no testimony before it that the proposed Master/Preliminary
Plan or its resulting land use was inconsistent with the
City's Comprehensive Plan. Appellant did not attend any
of the hearings before the Plan Commission on this matter or
present any testimony for the record in opposition to the
application. (Certified R., Item L, at 4.)
Plan Commission voted to approve the applications on a 6-1
vote and its decision was recorded on January 14, 2016.
(Certified R., Item I.) Specifically, the Plan Commission
"[t]he proposed Master/Preliminary Plan and its
resulting land use is consistent with the City of Cranston
Comprehensive Plan's Future Land Use Map which designates
the subject parcel as Residential - Less than one unit per
acre. The City Council specifically authorized Solar Power as
a use allowed by-right in land zoned A-80. The use is
therefore consistent with the Comprehensive Plan."
Id. at 2.
a Rhode Island corporation and owner of Lot 11 on
Assessor's Plat 23, which abuts the subject property
owned by Mr. Pagliarini (Compl. ¶ 1), filed a timely
appeal of the Plan Commission's decision to the Platting
Board. (Compl. ¶ 10.)
Platting Board held hearings related to this appeal on May
11, 2016 and November 9, 2016. (Certified R., Items J and K.)
Counsel for the Appellant argued as follows:
"And that's the essence of the appellant's
position, that there's a clear error here because the
proposal to do an industrial use doesn't comport with the
zoning ordinance, which dictates what can happen on that
property, and it doesn't comport with the Comprehensive
Plan, multiple ...