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Addressing Disputes Between Green Energy Producers and Neighboring Property Owners

The increasing relevance and importance of renewable energy projects in Rhode Island and nationwide have led to conflicts between companies proposing the development of green energy projects and the owners of property adjacent to such proposals. Solar and wind energy projects generally take up less space and disrupt less environmental, commercial, and residential activity than fossil fuel-based energy production. Although green projects are less disruptive than facilities dedicated to fossil fuel-based energy generation, this does not mean that Rhode Island property owners want these projects in their backyards. Solar and wind farms can be unsightly and reduce neighboring property values. At the same time, the construction of large-scale green energy projects can be extremely disruptive to the communities in which they are being built. A Rhode Island court recently addressed an appeal filed by a solar energy company in response to conditions placed upon their project by a municipal zoning board.

The appellant in the recently decided appeal is a company that has sought approval for a photovoltaic solar energy system (PSES) within an area of Hopkinton, RI, that is zoned for manufacturing. To obtain approval for the project, the appeal needed to apply for a Development Plan Review (DPR) to the municipal zoning board for evaluation and approval. As part of the application process, the zoning board held public hearings to discuss the proposal. Many residents of Hopkinton testified at the hearing in opposition to the project. Residents expressed concerns about the amount of vegetation that would be removed as part of the construction. Residents also objected to the construction occurring outside of weekday business hours. The zoning board eventually approved the project, albeit with conditions that no vegetation in certain areas could be removed or modified, and that construction could not occur after 5 pm or on weekends.

The energy company appealed the imposition of the conditions to a board of appeals, and ultimately to the Rhode Island Superior Court. The Court agreed that the legal reasoning used by the zoning board did not justify the imposition of the challenged conditions on the appellant. The Court found that the zoning board had no right to forbid the appellant from modifying or removing vegetation from the areas at issue. Additionally, the court ruled that the working-hours restrictions could not be legally imposed based on the controlling laws and regulations when the application was made. As a result of the Court’s ruling, the appellant will be permitted to complete their project without the conditions initially imposed by the zoning board.

Contact a Rhode Island Real Estate Lawyer for Assistance

If you are seeking to complete an energy or other development project in Rhode Island, navigating hurdles placed in your way by residents and municipal government can be frustrating and challenging. Zoning boards often misconstrued and erroneously supply regulations to developers to appease residents, even when these actions are illegal. If you’re planning a construction project, the Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP can help you make a strong case for approval from the start, to avoid the need for costly appeals. If an appeal is needed, we can skillfully represent you through the process to ensure the best chance that your proposal is approved as submitted. If you have questions about a Rhode Island property or real estate issue, call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.

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