Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 04-18-2019

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET EDITION | VALLEY BREEZE | APRIL 18-24, 2019 NORTH SMITHFIELD 5 NORTH SMITHFIELD – A Massachusetts-based company is looking to build a solar farm off Greenville Road, and the ownership of the property is drawing questions and criticism from town resident Mike Rapko. Econox Renewables, a solar and wind energy development company with offices in Winchester, Mass., has proposed an 800-kilowatt solar farm on two parcels with access to Greenville Road. The farm is small by current standards, with less then one megawatt of expected energy output, compared with the 40 or more megawatts proposed for a development currently under consid- eration on an adjacent property. The parcels are owned by Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, who told The Valley Breeze this week he plans to lease them to Econox Renewables if the plans are approved. "The only interest I have is that I own the land and they have offered a lease if they can get the approvals for the project," he said. Ezovski said his relationship with the company dates back before his tenure as town administrator, when he approached the company about the possibility of developing a solar farm on the property. Several other companies, he said, had also expressed interest in developing the property for a solar installation. Green Development, the company currently seeking to build a 40-plus- megawatt solar farm on an adjacent property owned by Ralph Ferra, was not one of those companies, and has never expressed an interest in the Greenville Road parcels, stated Ezovski. The properties are officially listed under Grand Banks Commerce Park LLC, a company Ezovski owns. According to Town Planner Tom Kravitz, the proposed solar array would be located entirely on one of the two parcels, with the panels covering approximately three acres. DiPrete Engineering has submitted an application to complete work on the project, which is considered a "minor land development" under town zoning ordinance. Ezovski said he does not believe his ownership of the parcels con- stitutes a conflict of interest, a view that is not shared by all residents. Rapko, who lives on Old Greenville Road, close to the site of the pro- posed farm, came before the Town Council on Monday to question Ezovski's role in the project and his ability to remain disinterested as town administrator. He also ques- tioned the role of the town planner and Planning Department, which officially reports to the administrator. "It's very uncomfortable. How can you stay neutral for the project when the boss is your manager?" he asked. Rapko also questioned the eth- ics of the decision to move forward with the project and told Ezovski he should have waited until he left office before choosing to lease the land for a solar development. "If this happened in Providence or some city, that's the way they do business," he said. "But this is North Smithfield. We should be focused on being transparent and trying to stay decent. That's the bottom line." In response to Rapko's concerns, Ezovksi pointed out decisions on pro- posed projects are made by members of the town's Planning and Zoning Boards, not employees of their respective departments. Upon learn- ing the company was ready to sub- mit its application to the Planning Department, he said, he informed the town planner and zoning official that they should direct any ques- tions on the project to Town Council President Paul Vadenais and should avoid speaking with him about the project in his official capacity. "We're required to be residents of the town in order to run for the office. We're not required to give up property rights the day that we get elected," he told The Valley Breeze. Ezovski said he plans to seek a for- mal opinion on the matter from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. According to Kravitz, the Planning Board already considered the appli- cation once last month and will be considering it again during a public hearing on May 2. Under the town's solar zoning ordinance, Econox Renewables will have to appear before the Zoning Board to request a special use permit before getting the green light to begin construction. The company does not currently have any other projects in North Smithfield, though they have com- pleted several other solar and wind projects around the state. Ezovski said his interest in the property first arose during his time serving on the School Committee, when he became aware of the par- cels as one of the few remaining undeveloped properties with direct access to Greenville Road. In 2005, the parcels were a subject of dis- pute when they were included in a list of proposed zoning changes as part of an amendment to the town's comprehensive plan. That pro- posal, which was ultimately never approved, would have seen the area around Whortleberry Hill rezoned for commercial development, a future use that has been supported by Ezovski and other town officials at various points over the years. While town tax records list his financial interest in the property dat- ing back to 2005, Ezovski told The Breeze he officially purchased the parcels in 2007. "For the last 12 years, it's been my 30-acre dog park, which is pretty expensive," he said. "So when these folks came with interest about a solar farm, I was like, why not. It had the potential to hold the land for what I still believe is the most opportune use of being a business park." Solar proposed on Town Administrator Ezovski's land By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer lauren@valleybreeze.com EZOVSKI 'We're required to be residents of the town in order to run for the office. We're not required to give up property rights the day that we get elected.' GARY EZOVSKI North Smithfield Town Administrator

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