Hopkinton Residents Fight Council on Spot Zoning for Solar
Project's listed developer has long history of closed LLCs and corporations in Rhode Island
July 31, 2018
HOPKINTON, R.I. — Old Depot Road residents were thrown a bone by a solar-energy developer in hopes their opposition to a 13.8-megawatt project would fade. It hasn’t.
“Ninety-nine percent of us are still against the project because it’s changing the zoning,” Joe Moreau said. “We’re still fighting it.”
In fact, a group of concerned residents, including Moreau and Steve Wiehl, is considering hiring an attorney and their own experts to represent their interests. They also plan to have an information table at the Stop & Shop in Richmond, 3 Stilson Road, on Aug. 4 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. to increase public awareness about the proposed project.
Warwick-based Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy III LLC wants to build a utility-scale solar facility on three lots — off Woodville Alton Road, off Townsend Road, and on an adjacent site that was once used as a municipal landfill and then as a private dump. The rectangle-shaped lot that would have hosted solar panels across the street from several Old Deport Road residents has been dropped from the proposal.
“The project doesn’t change. He’s offered to move the frontage back 700 feet,” said Wiehl, who like Moreau is an Old Depot Road resident. “It’s about spot zoning. You don’t do that to your residents. The project isn’t even consistent with the town’s own guidelines.”
The classic definition of spot zoning is, “The process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of such property and to the detriment of other owners,” according to Anderson’s American Law of Zoning, 4th Edition.
The town’s latest comprehensive plan recommends, “Develop and enforce buffers and transition zones to prevent intrusion into residential neighborhoods by future new economic development” and “Use land use controls, such as PUD [planned unit development] and cluster development, to encourage creative land planning concepts that reduce development costs while preserving open space and environmentally sensitive areas not otherwise protected by local, state, and federal law.”
The 148-page plan also has land-use goals that “protect the quality of life and rural character of Hopkinton” and “preserve existing working farms, wildlife and wildlife habitat.”
Residents of Old Depot Road and other area neighborhoods gathered in early July after a handful of Old Depot Road residents received a certified letter in the mail about the proposed energy project, which requires a zoning change from residential to limited-use commercial and would go against the town’s comprehensive plan.
Even without most of the Old Depot Road parcel included in the project, opponents, including those whose neighborhoods wouldn’t be directly impacted, remain concerned that the clear-cutting of thousands of trees will increase stormwater runoff, create flooding conditions, destroy wildlife habitat, and hurt property values.
Besides the requested zoning change and the proposed project’s impacts, opponents are also concerned about the costs associated with the future decommissioning of the panels and clean up of the site when the solar arrays reach the end of their useful life after 20 or so years.
“Who’s going to pay to clean up the site, and who will ensure it’s done right?” Moreau asked.
Opponents also are concerned about the process itself. They claim the developer and his hired expert witnesses have presented hours of testimony while they haven’t been given the same opportunities to address the council.
During the project’s second hearing, on July 2, the attorney representing Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy, Vincent Naccarato, had nine expert witnesses in attendance, according to the meeting minutes. He also had nine expert witnesses, including Audie Osgood of DiPrete Engineering, in attendance at the first hearing, according to the minutes from the council’s June 18 meeting.
Moreau recently told ecoRI News that one council member’s comments have amounted to nothing less than “testimony in favor of the project.”
Moreau, for one, is also worried that the council hasn’t looked closely enough at the developer, Anthony DelVicario of Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy. He brought up those concerns at the July 16 Hopkinton Town Council meeting.
Council member Barbara Capalbo told him Hopkinton doesn’t do background checks unless the contractor is proposing to do work for the town.
Four Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy LLCs have been registered in Rhode Island since 2016, according to the secretary of state’s office. Three of these LLCs were created this year, on Jan. 31, April 26, and June 28. The original’s license was revoked in December 2017 for failure to maintain a registered office.
In fact, DelVicario has been associated with at least 14 Rhode Island LLCs or corporations since 1999. The licenses of nine have since been revoked, including Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy LLC. The other eight were revoked for failure to file annual reports.
Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy III LLC is the listed developer of the project being opposed by Moreau, Wiehl, and others, at least according to Town Council agendas for hearings on June 18, July 2, and July 16. The three agendas list the LLC with an address of 43 Creston Way in Warwick. Paperwork with the secretary of state’s office lists the address as 300 Centerville Road Summit West, Suite 300, in Warwick.
Four years ago this August, DelVicario was arrested by the Rhode Island State Police Financial Crimes Unit and charged with obtaining money under false pretenses.
DelVicario, who had been part of a failed movie studio development deal in Hopkinton and a long-stalled movie studio development deal in Connecticut, wanted to build a connector road between the site of a rollerskating rink off South Pier Road and Point Judith Road in Narragansett. He faced a felony fraud charge.
Police alleged that DelVicario, of 43 Creston Way in Warwick, owner of O.C. Realty LLC, used his interest in Connecticut Studios LLC, a construction project he was affiliated with, as collateral to secure a $200,000 personal loan. The lender told police that when the loan defaulted, the lender discovered DelVicario had already used his shares in Connecticut Studios as collateral on a separate loan in 2009, according to an October 2014 story in The Independent.
Following a settlement with the complainant, the charge against him was eventually dropped.
According to The Independent, questions into DelVicario’s financial deals surfaced after his request for a Narragansett easement came forward. DelVicario, as head of Providence’s Halden Acquisition Group, pitched a $75 million studio with eight sound stages for farmland in Hopkinton. The venture would have been done in collaboration with Pacifica Ventures, a production studio based in Santa Monica, Calif. It never made it past the initial planning stages and was declared dead in August 2008.
The project moved to South Windsor, Conn., in 2009, where the developers touted more than 495,000 square feet of facilities, including film studios, sound stages, a hotel, a 5-megawatt fuel-cell operation, and a visitor center, according to the Journal Inquirer. The project has yet to break ground.
The Hartford Courant reported that in 2013 the Connecticut Legislature ended film tax credits, but included an exception for Connecticut Studios. The Halden Acquisition Group paid the law firm of former Connecticut House Speaker Thomas Ritter nearly $194,000 between 2009 and 2013, and Ritter lobbied on behalf of the company to gain the exception, according to the newspaper’s reporting.
The Halden Acquisition Group filed for bankruptcy in December 2013 and closed in March 2014. Its interest was acquired by dck North America LLC of Delaware. The Hartford Courant reported that DelVicario’s company owed dck North America, the project’s former construction management company, more than $2 million.
In 1990, DelVicario, one of three general partners for Commercial Associates, was named in a Bald Hill Plaza lawsuit, which claimed work progressed without regard to the terms of the contract.
“The contract was continually amended by oral agreements between [Thomas D.] Gammino of [Tilcon Gammino Inc.] and DelVicario of Commercial,” according to the lawsuit. “DelVicario requested overtime work, extra equipment, extra materials, and the shifting of work crews from one part of the site to another. He would order different equipment for the job when he was unsatisfied. Tilcon honored these requests because DelVicario had promised that Commercial would pay for all the work he directed to be performed.”
The petitioner was awarded $1.3 million.
Besides his association and partnerships with the Halden Acquisition Group, Commercial Associates, Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy III, O.C. Realty, and Connecticut Studios, DelVicario has owned, operated, or been involved with a number of other limited liability companies (LLCs) and corporations, according to the Rhode Island secretary of state’s office.
Those Rhode Island businesses include:
Prov. Construction Co. Inc., 200 River Farms Drive, West Warwick; incorporated July 1, 1996; date of revocation Sept. 22, 1999, for failure to file annual report; building, remodeling, and construction management.
River Farms Development and Realty Inc., 100 River Farms Drive, West Warwick; incorporated Dec. 8, 1999; date of revocation Jan. 11, 2008, for failure to file annual report; build and sell condominiums.
RF Construction Co. Inc., 100 River Farms Drive, West Warwick; incorporated Aug. 3, 2000; date of revocation Oct. 7, 2002, for failure to file annual report; general construction and contracting.
Tony DelVicario LLC, 381 River Ave., Providence; created Aug. 10, 2005; date of revocation Aug. 19, 2008, for failure to file annual report; real estate.
Halden Acquisition Group LLC, 381 River Ave., Providence; created Aug. 3, 2006; date of revocation Aug. 19, 2008, for failure to file annual report; real estate.
North Victory Highway Development LLC, 381 River Ave., Providence; created April 11, 2007; date of revocation June 15, 2009, for failure to file annual report; real estate.
Halden Acquisition Group II LLC, 117 Metro Center Blvd., Suite 2007, Warwick, created Aug. 7, 2007; real estate.
CTSRI Investors LLC, 381 River Road, Providence; created Sept. 9, 2013; date of revocation July 1, 2015, for failure to file annual report.
360 South Pier Realty Holdings LLC, 43 Creston Way, Warwick; created July 21, 2014; date of revocation June 8, 2016, for failure to file annual report.
Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy LLC, 46 Creston Way, Warwick, created June 15, 2016; date of revocation Dec. 1, 2017, for failure to maintain a registered office.
Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy II LLC, 300 Centerville Road Summit West , Suite 300, Warwick; created Jan. 31, 2018.
Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy IV LLC, 300 Centerville Road Summit West , Suite 300, Warwick; created June 28, 2018.
On June 18, the Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy III project was one of five solar arrays under consideration by town officials, according to a Planning Department memorandum. By July 13, four more solar proposals had been added to the list.
The town has already approved 12 solar projects, including an 18.8-megawatt Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy facility on 60 acres off Alton-Bradford Road.
The Town Council is expected to continue the Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy III project public hearing at its meeting scheduled for Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. at Chariho Middle School. This fourth hearing is expected to be the council’s last, but Wiehl said opponents may ask for a continuance if they decide to hire a lawyer and experts.
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Excellent, in-depth article. Well done.
Destroying forests for solar is not "green"; it’s stupid. No other word or it. There are plenty of abandoned parking lots and other degraded properties in Rhode Island where such development could be welcomed and praised. And one has to wonder about the people drawing up plans for "Hopkington", wherever that is.