In do-over vote, large Portsmouth solar facility is approved

Abutters angered by Planning Board’s reversal on West Main Solar 1’s proposal

By Jim McGaw
Posted 1/14/22

PORTSMOUTH — It was the same application, the same board, but different results this time around — and the abutters to a large-scale solar facility approved for land on the east …

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In do-over vote, large Portsmouth solar facility is approved

Abutters angered by Planning Board’s reversal on West Main Solar 1’s proposal

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — It was the same application, the same board, but different results this time around — and the abutters to a large-scale solar facility approved for land on the east side of West Main Road were not happy about it.

In December, the Planning Board denied West Main Solar I’s final plan approval for a controversial 3.16-megawatt solar photovoltaic facility across from Melville Elementary School, just north of Russo Road. The vote was actually 3-2 in favor of the petition, but at least four votes were needed to approve the plan under the meeting rules.

However, because the seven-person board was down two members at the time — former Chairman Guy Bissonnette, who had resigned shortly before the Dec. 8 meeting, and Kathleen Wilson, who was absent — planners agreed to reconsider the vote and continue the meeting to the January meeting. During the Dec. 8 meeting, Vice Chairman Luke Harding, sitting in as chairman, said he believed those two members appeared to be in favor of granting the application.

“When you have a board that’s supposed to be seven, and you don’t have even close to that, it’s not really that board,” Harding said after that meeting, explaining his reasoning for supporting a re-vote. “Out of respect for Guy Bissonnette, who put his heart and soul into that petition — he’s always a very fair guy — I wanted to honor the way he thought and the way he treated this board.”

And so in the do-over vote on Wednesday, Jan. 12, a full board voted 4-2 to approve the petition this time. Wilson, as expected, voted in the affirmative. New member Chris O’Connell, who did not sit in on the petition hearing since he was appointed by the Town Council on Jan. 10, did not vote.

The two votes against the application were cast by the same two members who voted in the minority last month: Harding and Seth Pilotte, who had raised concerns over the amount of clearcutting of trees the applicant had proposed. Gleason, David Garceau, Edward Lopes, Jr., and Ryan Tibbetts voted in the affirmative.

Arguing over rules

Just before the vote, David Croston of Sweet Farm Road, one of the abutters opposed to the facility, tried to raise a point of order. Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin, however, interrupted him to say a member of the public doesn’t have that right — only the board does. 

His advice, Gavin told the board, was to “reconsider and revote, period.”

Croston, a former chairman of the School Committee, wasn’t finished, however.

“Kathleen (Wilson) cannot vote,” he said, pointing out that Wilson was not at the December meeting.

“Mr. Croston is out of order,” replied Gavin, adding that Wilson had reviewed the tape of the December meeting and was entitled to vote, and that the board had inherent authority to reconsider its earlier decision. “The public hearing has been concluded. I’m not going to get into a debate with Mr. Croston.”

Several other abutters also tried to speak up, with one telling board members they didn’t have to take Gavin’s advice. When Croston argued about the wording of the motion, Gavin said he wasn’t allowed “to monopolize the discussion” as if he were “the chair of the board.”

Town Planner Gary Crosby said he supported Gavin’s advice that the board proceed to a vote without further comment. Crosby, who appeared remotely, said he tried to make that point earlier but was not recognized.

Lopes elected chairman

In other action Wednesday night, the board voted to elect Lopes as its new chairman, and Harding as vice chairman.

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