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Halifax County planners back solar project in Scottsburg / November 18, 2021

The Halifax County Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend approval of a 47-megawatt solar generation project in the Scottsburg area, conforming to the county’s updated requirements for screening and property line setbacks.

The solar project applicant, Staunton Solar, LLC is seeking a conditional use permit to build the solar array at the corner of Dryburg Road and McDonald Road. It will rest on 583.5 acres owned by Robert Michael Harris, Talley and Diane Cook, Ronald Reel, Francis Mitchell, and Bobby and Susan Snead.

Staunton Solar is a subsidiary of Oriden Power, a Mitsubishi company. The project will feed into an existing substation on MacDonald Road.

Planners met Tuesday in joint session with the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, which must grant final approval of the project.

Zoning Administrator Detrick Easley said the project applicant has met all of the requirements for large-scale solar facilities, including enhanced vegetation buffers and setback requirements in the county’s updated solar ordinance, which the planning commission also approved Tuesday.

The developers are continuing to negotiate an agreement with the county for direct payments in lieu of property taxes. Easley said he believes the agreement will be ready for the Board of Supervisors meeting in December.

Oriden Power director of development Michael Berlin told planners the solar array would have virtually no impact on nearby residents.

“The location is very much hidden from the neighbors with existing vegetation buffers,” said Berlin.

The primary reason for selecting the site is the location of the Dominion Energy substation on MacDonald Road, the point of connection. The project will have to be approved by the Department of Environmental Quality and Control (DEQ) and secure a permit for storm water run-off.

“If everything goes to plan we are in hopes of beginning the project in 2023,” said Berlin.

While the Planning Commission approved the solar project with little comment, another item on the meeting agenda — an update to the county’s language for commercial zones — drew some opposition. Planners held a public hearing to seek input on an C-1 zone update to allow for the construction of townhouses in commercial areas.

Speaking in opposition was Glen Williamson, who lives in the Alton area.

“I believe part of this agreement is to allow VIR to build 18 new villas over there, and I have a lot of misgivings about that,” said Williamson, referring to the nearby road racing and entertainment complex.

Williamson shared his concerns about having an adequate water supply in the area — a persistent problem for VIR’s development. The track complex relies on groundwater supplies. Williamson suggested the county might be working a deal with Pittsylvania County Service Authority (PCSA) to run a water line into the Halifax County Service Authority (HCSA) water line.

“My own idea is, that there may be some backroom dealings on this to get those things built, and then force the county to install that water line to tie into PCSA running down Highway 58 and across the county line,” said Williamson.

Williamson said such a project would be an expensive proposition for the county. He also said that if the HCSA continues to sink wells at VIR, it will upset the water table for the people who live close to the track.

“I would hate to see friends and neighbors who have lived there for generations to lose their water and I would like to consider that when you address this amendment,” said Williamson.

Planning Commissioner Pete Riddle inquired if there were any other location in Halifax County interested in constructing townhomes in a commercial zoning district.

“This is not primarily done for VIR. It will help the future of development,” said Easley.

Easley verified there has been other interest expressed in building single family townhouses at Shepherd’s Gate, which is located off Highway 360 between Hamilton Boulevard and South Boston Speedway.

Easley added that VIR will be required to submit a request for a conditional use permit prior to the construction of any villas.

Planners also approved a conditional use permit for Jason Forlines to operate a small equipment rental business. Forlines intends to operate this business from his home in Scottsburg at 5097 James D. Hagood Highway. Forlines will rent items such as backhoes and bobcats. He has already secured Virginia Department of Transportation approval for the entrance and has agreed to all site conditions.

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