Plaintiff: Kelley N. Morris, Esq.
Defendant: James P. Marusak, Esq.
Intervenor: John O. Mancini, Esq. Nicholas J. Goodier, Esq.
Francis DiGregorio (Mr. DiGregorio) appeals the passage of an
amendment to Exeter's Zoning Ordinance (the Amendment)
contending that it is inconsistent with the specific
provisions and goals of Exeter's Comprehensive Plan and
therefore invalid. The Amendment restricts certain solar
power projects. Defendant Town of Exeter (the Town) agrees
that the Amendment is not consistent with the Comprehensive
Plan. Interpleader Green Development, LLC (Green) denies that
the Amendment is invalid; Green asserts that the Amendment
is, in fact, consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Both the
Town and Mr. DiGregorio have moved for summary judgment. This
Court has jurisdiction pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 45-24-71.
is in the business of developing commercial-scale renewable
energy projects, including those that involve solar power. By
2016, Green was working toward installing large solar energy
fields in Exeter. Green Development, LLC v. Town of
Exeter, WC-2018-0636, 2019 WL 1348609 at *1 (R.I. Super.
Mar. 21, 2019).
January 2, 2018, Green submitted a Petition to the Town
seeking to amend the Zoning Ordinance. The Petition sought to
allow the development of utility-scale, ground-mounted solar
photovoltaic facilities (Solar Projects) by right in certain
areas. Green was the largest owner and operator of renewable
projects in Rhode Island and had already filed applications
to develop Solar Projects in Exeter at the time the Amendment
was submitted. Def.'s Mot. Summ. J. Ex. B-6.
Amendment was referred to the Planning Board for study and
recommendation. The Planning Board held a hearing at which
both Mr. DiGregorio and a representative for Green were
present and had an opportunity to speak. Def.'s Mot.
Summ. J. Ex. B-2. On May 29, 2018, the Planning Board
provided its findings and recommendations to the Town
Council. In its recommendation, the Planning Board found the
Amendment did not comport with the Comprehensive Plan.
Town Council held a public hearing on the Amendment on April
2, 2018. The hearing was continued to July 9, 2018. On July
16, 2018, the Town passed the Amendment by a vote of
The Amendment changed the zoning designation of fifteen lots
to permit-by-right development of Solar Projects; in other
words, the applicant would not need to obtain permission from
the Zoning Board or Planning Board to develop Solar Projects.
These lots were all located in RU-3 and RU-4 Zoning
the Zoning Ordinance, an RU-3 designation "provide[s]
adequate land suitable for low density residential rural
development blended with forestry, farming and recreational
activities." An RU-4 designation "protect[s] land
now used for forestry, farming and related activities and the
natural habitat and wildlife and to preserve the area's
rural character. This zone provides land suitable for low
density residential development and reserves land for future
farming, forestry, conservation practices and recreational
uses." The Comprehensive Plan designates these lots as
either "Low Density/Environmental," "Medium
Low Density," or "Open Space."
now proposes to develop approximately sixty-five megawatts of
utility-scale solar photovoltaic facilities on four lots
included in the Amendment. It promptly submitted four
applications to the Town seeking approvals for the Solar
Projects on lots that were rezoned under the Amendment.
November 2018, several Town Council members were replaced in
the local election, including two of the three individuals
who had supported the Amendment. Green Development,
2019 WL 1348609 at *3. On February 4, 2019, the Town Council
amended the Zoning Ordinance and replaced the Amendment with
a version it deemed to be in compliance with the Town's