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Planners turn down Geenex solar farm

SoVaNow.com / November 01, 2017
Finding the project did not fit with the county’s comprehensive plan, the Mecklenburg County Planning Commission voted 7-3 last week to reject a request for the proposed Grasshopper solar farm outside of Chase City, a decision that likely brings the venture to an end.

Planners tabled a decision on a second solar project, Otter Creek, which also has been proposed for the Chase City area.

The Grasshopper project was planned by green energy developers Geenex and BayWa at a 913-acre tract owned by Mac Bailey at the intersection of Highways 47 and 49 near Chase City. The property abuts town limits but lies in the county.

Geenex had sought to turn the site into an 80-megawatt solar farm, generating enough electricity to power 15,000 homes.

Members of the Planning Commission held what is known as a 2232 review at their meeting Thursday night in Boydton. The purpose of the review was to determine the compatibility of the proposed public facility with the county’s comprehensive plan, used to guide future development.

Offering testimony at the hearing were Tommy Nelson, on behalf of BayWa, Geenex attorney Ann Neil Cosby and property owner Mac Bailey as well as several Chase City residents and elected officials, most of whom expressed support for the project.

After hearing the public comments, three planners — Jarrious Lassiter, James Puryear and Jerome Watson — voted to approve a special exception permit for the Grasshopper solar facility. Opposing the project were Planning Commission Chairman Kyle Crump, Vice Chair Charles Reamy and members Joseph Taylor, Mark Warren, Landon Hayes, Charles Jones and David Brankley.

Crump, who made a motion opposing the solar project, said he had two major concerns. First, the farm would sit on property adjacent to a scenic byway, Route 47, and second, the site was too close to the Town of Chase City.

According to County Zoning Administrator Robert Hendrick, officials with Geenex and BayWa have 10 days to appeal the finding of the Planning Commission. That appeal, if filed, then goes to the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors, which will have 60 days to rule on whether the proposed facility is in substantial accord with Mecklenburg County’s vision for growth and development.

Hendrick said on Monday that he’d had no contact with anyone associated with either Geenex or BayWa, and he speculated that since the Planning Commission previously voted to reject a special exception permit for Geenex, the odds were against an appeal this time around. Without an appeal, Thursday’s vote will end Geenex’s attempt to install a solar farm at the Bailey property.

The proposal cannot move forward without a favorable recommendation on either the 2232 review or the special exception permit request.

In other business, the Planning Commission took no action following a 2232 hearing on a separate solar farm site, the Otter Creek project. Commission members said they were awaiting direction from the Board of Supervisors on whether to consider the Otter Creek request in the context of the county’s existing comprehensive plan or a proposed update.

At the end of their monthly meeting in September, planners reached agreement on zoning and planning standards for solar farms in Mecklenburg County. These recommendations were forwarded to the Board of Supervisors for approval, but as yet the board has taken no action.

As plans emerged to bring utility scale solar farms to Mecklenburg County, the planning commission was faced with the question of whether to approve requests for special exception permits from companies seeking to install the utility-scale solar farms when the local comprehensive plan was silent on whether these farms are consistent with the county’s development objectives. This prompted the county to call for a rewrite of both its comp plan and zoning code.

The Otter Creek Farm, proposed by Brookfield Renewable Partners, is a 60-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy facility located on approximately 700 acres near the intersection of Spanish Grove Road and Highway 92. It would abut an already-approved facility, the Bluestone solar farm, a 330-acre, 70-megawatt facility proposed by Carolina Solar Energy.

Speaking on the Otter Creek project, Frances Hodson, one of the original developers, said the facility should be measured against the county’s existing comprehensive plan, and that it was substantially in accord with that plan. He noted that the site is more than one mile from the Chase City town boundary, there is a “good amount” of transmission lines in the area, and data centers are looking to locate in areas where there is access to renewable energy sources such as solar power. He concluded, because the solar farm is a temporary facility — with a useful life of 40 years or less — there is almost no impact to the land.

Burch Peterson, son of the landowner, says he is excited about the use of the farm for solar energy and will continue to live near the property.

Brookfield Renewable Partners began their permitting process — requesting a 2232 hearing — after the County had taken steps to amend its comp plan and zoning code, but before any changes were approved by the supervisors. For that reason, the Planning Commission is seeking direction from the Board of Supervisors as to which standard to apply, and could rule on the project during their next meeting on November 30.

In other zoning news, Hendrick said the regulatory agencies, including VDOT and DEQ have signed off on plans by Par 5 Development Group, a real estate developer based in West End, N.C. to construct a Dollar General Store at 4599 Plank Road near South Hill.

Hendrick said construction of the store can begin as soon as the developer posts the bond for erosion and soil control.

The site, previously owned by Ethel Bing, sits across from Parham Convenience Store on Highway 1.

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Comments

Rejected because the county’s comprehensive plan, calls for the slow and painful death of all industry and business in Mecklenburg County. So how is that SCENIC BYWAY going?

Comments

Is it true that the BOS went against them and voted for it? Nothing like having money. Mecklenburg county has the best politicans that money can by. Guess the $500 grand promised to Chase City was well spent.


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