Planning Board approves School solar panel

Gaffett’s restaurant plan moves on
Fri, 09/08/2017 - 9:45am
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The third time might be a charm for the Block Island School and its quest to install a solar panel system on its High Street property. The School Committee’s new design proposal calls for installing a 122 fixed panel system on two flat sections of roof. The previous plan for the project had proposed installing 142 panels on the ground.

The Planning Board unanimously approved development plan review of the project, noting that it is in compliance with the town’s Comprehensive Plan. It was the third time the project had been heard before the Planning Board, as it failed to garner approval from the board during its first two attempts due to a siting issue brought forth by an abutter to the property.

The school’s solar project “is consistent with the goals of the town’s Comprehensive Plan,” said Town Planner/GIS Specialist Alison Ring at the board’s Aug. 30 meeting prior to granting approval. 

School Superintendent Judy Lundsten told The Block Island Times that, “Once the decision is posted there is a 20 day appeal period. During this time, the school will be working on the contract with Hannah Solar and finalizing the design.” Scott Hennessey from Hannah Solar will be installing the system, which will have additional steel studs for reinforcement to the roof.

As for the installation, Lundsten said the system “will be installed on two sections of flat roof with a total of 122 fixed panels, 43 on one section, 79 on the other, and offering all the same educational components of the first design via electronic classroom monitoring and data collection.” 

During the meeting, Lundsten informed the Planning Board that the project was designed with “education and the environment” in mind. She also said a structural engineer “checked the gym’s roof” to ensure that it could support the solar system. “We’re eager to get started with this project,” she said. The solar array is expected to save the school approximately $16,000 per year.

“I think the roof is probably the safest place for a number of reasons,” said Planning Board Chair Margie Comings. “We think this is a project that is worth doing.”

Board member Mary Anderson asked if the solar system would be maintained after it’s installed, to which Lundsten said it would. “The weather plays havoc with any kind of equipment” that is situated outdoors on the island, she said.

“It’s not rocket science,” remarked board member John Spier, noting that there are many of these systems installed on island properties. Spier made the motion to approve the school’s application, which was then seconded by Vice Chair Sven Risom, and unanimously approved.

New restaurant plans reviewed 

In other news, the board voted unanimously to continue development plan review to Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. for the Gaffett family’s application to construct a two-story commercial restaurant building on Ocean Avenue adjacent to the Poor People’s Pub. The Gaffetts plan to use the building to relocate their establishment, the Old Island Pub. Spier recused himself from the discussion as he is building a home on Calico Hill, which abuts the property.

The board will draft a motion for its next meeting containing items that need to be addressed in the project’s plan. One topic debated was moving the building back a foot to accommodate two retaining walls and a sand filter, which impacted parts of the proposal. Another was the collection of trash that has accumulated in the property’s locale. Board member Sam Bird felt proper trash disposal should be stipulated in the draft motion.

“That area seems to be a dumping ground because nobody has any place to put it,” said Bird, referring to an area situated behind the Poor People’s Pub. “So the stuff keeps accumulating there.”

The accumulation of trash has been met with disapproval by the abutters on Calico Hill. Abutters Cindy Lasser and Marie Langdon were in attendance and claim that the trash is in their view-shed. “We’re looking down at all of that,” said Lasser. “Where is everyone putting their garbage? Right now it is awful back there.”

“I agree with what Cindy is saying. There is a lot of stuff stored back there,” said Paige Gaffett, explaining that trash from the property will be properly disposed of. “We’ll have one dumpster” on the property, “preferably behind a lattice structure,” to screen it.

Gaffett attorney William Landry told the board that the project received “approval” on August 21 from the Historic District Commission, “with the caveat that the (concrete retaining) walls have a stone veneer built onto them.” Landry said on August 23 the Zoning Board of Review “denied” the Gaffetts’ appeal of a memo drafted by Building Official Marc Tillson to the Planning Board, which stated that the project requires a dimensional variance.

“Any decision the Planning Board makes here would be contingent on the Zoning Board granting those two setback variances,” said Landry, who noted that he anticipated that the Zoning Board appeal might be denied, so the Gaffetts filed for the variances as well on August 23.

Landry also explained to Ring that seating for the proposal calls for 82 seats inside the building and eight outside. He said the Gaffetts’ building plan would denote the property’s seating capacity, and not exceed 90 total seats.

The board heard questions and concerns from the abutters regarding the project, and will be taking them into account when drafting the motion. Lasser asked if she could be furnished with a “skyscape” of the proposal. Both abutters noted that they were having trouble reviewing the building plans. In response, Landry provided them with an updated set of plans.

Lasser said she was concerned that the revised plans require the building to be moved closer to Calico Hill, which she noted is “historically significant” in the historic district. She also stated that she wasn’t against the Gaffetts’ project and thought the revised plan was “so much nicer now.”

“I appreciate the abutters’ concerns regarding how it looks now, and how it could look,” said Risom, who made sure the abutters’ questions were answered. “We need to be careful in how we craft” the draft motion.