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Solar controversy continues

The solar debate continues in Charlotte County as a majority of those who addressed the Board of Supervisors (BOS) during a public hearing on an ordinance for stricter setbacks on Sept. 12 felt their voices were not heard.

For months SolUnesco, a Reston Virginia solar company, has worked to have a proposed 800 megawatts solar facility one that is set to be one of the largest in the nation approved while another company seeks to construct a facility in Charlotte Courthouse.

In addition, throughout the year, the Planning Commission has been tasked with amending zoning ordinances for setbacks, buffers, and the list goes on.

Will
Garnett

In June, the Planning Commission unanimously voted to amend the zoning ordinance for setbacks and require community meetings for large-scale solar facilities.

The newly amended section of the zoning ordinance called for a minimum setback of 125 feet from the centerline of any state-maintained road abutting the property; a minimum setback of 75 feet from all other property lines except those property lines that are inside the project’s boundaries and which do not abut property located outside the project area; and a minimum of 400 feet from all off-site residential structures unless otherwise prescribed by the Board of Supervisors as a condition of approval for a conditional use permit.

Seeking stricter setback Supervisors Kay Pierantoni and Donna Fore pushed for and received a majority vote during an August BOS meeting for a public hearing on an ordinance that would become stricter.

What came out of the three-hour public hearing on Sept. 12 was reverting to the planning commission’s original zoning ordinance recommendation, heated conversations, accusations of financial gain, lots of letters read, and citizen after citizen taking to the podium to express mainly opposition for solar.

The majority who spoke during the public hearing spoke in favor of stricter setbacks recommended by citizens Rebecca Daly and Rodney Moon.

Despite the request for more substantial setbacks, Vice-Chairman Will Garnett made a motion to adopt the planning commission’s original recommendations; Supervisor Shook seconded with the motion passing 4-3 with Chairman Walker and supervisor Reeves voting in favor of the action.

Supervisor Garnett, who represents the Bacon/Saxe district where the Randolph solar would be located, did not express or explain his reasoning for his vote against the stricter setbacks. The Gazette made repeated attempts via email and text in regards to Garnett’s motion and vote. However, as of press time the attempts have gone unanswered.

Kay
Pierantoni

“I wish that more people had been listening,” Supervisor Fore said. “When hard working, honest citizens of this county either show up in person or write letters to their government, and then they get ignored, I’m speechless.”

In an email, Supervisor Pierantoni said she had several conversations with Garnett about the issues leading up to the vote. “We had three conversations, in August and one in September, the Thursday before the meeting, and we also had one in July,” Pierantoni said. “Will said he pretty much agreed with the setbacks but thought they needed some adjustments. He suggested, and I agreed, to go down the list and discuss each one … We didn’t come to a firm agreement. We both agreed the planning commissions recommendation was not enough.”

Pierantoni said she is particularly disturbed by the Randolph Solar project.

“It’s just too massive, and there are too many homes in the footprint,” she said.

Following the Sept. 12 public hearing, Pierantoni said she was shocked at the outcome especially considering Garnett voted against the stricter setbacks. “He (Garnett) didn’t say anything when I made my motion,” Pierantoni said. I had spoken to him in July, and he was on board with these kinds of setbacks. But I felt he betrayed his citizens the most. This was his one chance to help make it better; also, in my opinion, Will wasn’t the only one that sat there and said nothing to try to work with me on this.”