Officials want Berkeley Business Center to stay green as it goes green | Building Industry |

2022-08-12 19:57:49 By : Mr. Peter Wang

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CUMBERLAND – Town officials are seeking more information on exactly how developer Jason Macari plans to incorporate more greenery into his Berkeley Business Center property on Martin Street, as Macari looks to remove dozens of mature trees to accommodate new solar carports.

At a July 27 Planning Board meeting where the board made a positive recommendation to the Zoning Board of Review on permissions for the solar project, officials questioned Macari’s plan to remove the larger trees, asking if there might be some other option for solar here that would not require such a dramatic step.

The board had previously approved a conceptual master plan for the project at the former Berkeley Mill.

Town Planner Glenn Modica expressed the Planning Department’s concerns on the variance that would lead to the mature trees being cut down, as well as plans for paving in a 100-year flood zone and what those combined actions might do to an area that’s already known for heavy flooding that’s caused millions of dollars in damage to Hope Global and other companies.

Modica said this is a project with some contradictions, a green energy proposal coming at the expense of mature trees and more paving that could cause more flooding.

The town’s solar ordinance doesn’t prohibit tree-cutting, and the establishment of the overlay district for the mill allowed 100-percent lot coverage, but the project still needs a development permit, and just because those things are allowed doesn’t mean they should happen, noted Modica.

Fortunately, he said, Macari is working with the town to develop a landscape plan, which he said officials would like to see include more trees and vegetation to offset the loss of the trees.

Modica said he was not opposed to the positive recommendation to the Zoning Board, as the Planning Board will still have oversight on the project during the preliminary plan stage.

Attorney Scott Partington noted that this is a property where nine-tenths of the lot size is taken up by a mill that Macari essentially “brought back from the dead” with his mixed-use redevelopment. Perceived inadequacies can be addressed, he said, but the row of trees has to be removed to allow adequate sunlight.

The reason for the 100 percent lot coverage in the overlay is because the developer needed to squeeze every available parking space out of it, said the attorney.

Member Harry MacDonald said that whatever the landscaping plan consists of, the board will not be content with just some added grass somewhere. Macari assured members that he will more than adequately make up for the trees that are being removed with more smaller trees.

He also explained the challenges of adding solar carports to a property with a 70-foot building on one side and 60-foot trees on the other. He said there are actually probably only 25-30 trees to be removed, not the 50 suggested, because he previously took out some trees to thin them out, so they wouldn’t continue to cause damage. Other trees have to come down anyway because they’re breaking down the old retaining wall, he said.

Macari said hopefully everyone will be pleased with the greenery he’s trying to incorporate into a very tight lot. He reminded members that this was a 240,000-square-foot mill property at one point with only 100 parking spaces. When it was built, there were no cars and the current row of trees didn’t exist, he said.

Member Steven D’Ambrosia asked whether solar panels are required, questioning the benefit of adding them when it requires cutting down a row of trees. These are trees with their own ecosystems and ability to limit stormwater runoff, he said, decreasing the heat island created by all the nearby parking. He asked if it might be more of a benefit to look at existing conditions and work solar in around what’s there.

Macari responded that they’re actually planting twice as many trees as are there now, including evergreens that stay active in handling carbon all year, easily outweighing the impact of those taken down.

Macari said the addition of carports is obviously one he doesn’t have to make, noting that it’s a decent investment, at a cost of $2 million and return of $180,000 per year, but it’s good for the property, good for the town, good for the state and country to go to renewable energy. What better spot, he said, than a commercial space with a commercial neighbor. This isn’t a rooftop unit and doesn’t require knocking a forest down as many other projects are doing, he said.

“If Rhode Island had oil under the ground, would we be drilling for oil?” he asked, promising that his property at 30 Martin St. will be carbon-positive.

Town Solicitor Kelly Morris Salvatore also mentioned that tree replacement could happen near the property and not just on it, offsetting the removal of the trees.

Planning and Community Development Director Jonathan Stevens said the comments made by Macari were illuminating. He said officials put up a bit of a protest about the trees because they saw that the buffer is going to be eliminated.

Stevens said he thinks everyone could benefit from having a dialogue at the site, so they can see everything firsthand.

Member Chris Butler said there were many good questions asked on July 27 that can be resolved at the preliminary plan stage. Macari has gone above and beyond as a town developer, he said, and no aspect of this back and forth is adversarial in nature.

Butler’s motion for a positive recommendation came with a note pointing out that there are some outstanding issues to review at the next stage in the process.

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