Chaos in Exeter: Council Embraces Utility-Scale Solar Despite Planning Objections

By FRANK DiGREGORIO

On July 16, the Exeter (R.I.) Town Council, by a vote of 3-2 — Dan Patterson, Frank Maher, and Ray Morrissey in favor and Cal Ellis and Kevin McGovern against — passed an amendment to the Exeter Zoning Ordinance proposed by Green Development LLC that changed the zoning of 15 lots to permitted by right the development of large-scale “utility solar facilities,” including other significant amendments to the Zoning Ordinance such as removal of the requirement that solar installations conform to lot coverage maximums.

It became apparent that Patterson, Maher, and Morrissey were determinedly biased in favor of Green Development’s amendment and dismissive of the testimony of opponents and of the negative recommendation of the Exeter Planning Board.

Being an abutter to one of the 15 properties and a member of the Planning Board, I recused myself from participating and voting on the Green Development amendment. Subsequently, I obtained the services of an experienced land-use attorney and filed an appeal in Superior Court on July 30 challenging the approval of Green Development’s amendment to the town’s solar zoning ordinance.

Furthermore, I decided that Exeter needs a Town Council that is dedicated to ethical and accountable governance and dedicated to preserving Exeter’s rural character so I declared my candidacy for the council, along with Calvin Ellis, Manuel Andrews, and Michael Conn.

Surprisingly, after just passing Green Development’s amendment, the council held a public hearing for the Exeter Planning Board’s proposed solar ordinance amendment draft No. 8 on Sept. 4. Why? Hadn’t the council passed the ordinance it wanted?

More surprisingly, the Planning Board’s proposed solar ordinance amendment draft No. 8 was approved by a 3-2 vote. The deciding vote passing the eighth draft ordinance was cast by Morrissey. Unfortunately, Morrissey has reversed course and subsequently requested that his vote be rescinded and that it be considered at the Town Council meeting scheduled for Sept. 20.

These ordinance amendments, together with multiple applications for utility-scale solar facilities filed under different ordinances, have left the Planning Board in a state of confusion as it relates to which ordinance is applicable to which application. This unfortunate situation has only compounded the Planning Board’s ability to defend Exeter’s comprehensive plan and Exeter as a rural community.

Hallville Road resident and Exeter Planning Board member Frank DiGregorio is a candidate for Town Council.