Commissioners approve solar farm, sales tax ballot measure

Memphis, Tennessee. Shelby Farms solar farm | FILE PHOTO

ALBEMARLE — Solar farms and sales tax were the primary discussion points of the county commissioners meeting on Monday. The Stanly County Board of Commissioners continued their discussion of large-scale solar facility zoning and later approved a resolution which would put a quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot in November.

The commissioners again considered an amendment to the county zoning ordinance which would allow the zoning administrator to increase the buffer between a solar facility and residences. Planning director, Michael Sandy, presented the text of the amendment which he said, “provides flexibility for the zoning administrator to consider topography and adjust requirements to be reasonable.” The increased buffer requirements would affect properties with existing adjacent residences. Residences added after permitting of a solar facility will not trigger new buffer requirements for the solar facility.

“The planning staff supports this language as an effective way to protect nearby residences while allowing the economic benefits of the SEPGS Overlay District,” said Sandy.

During the public comment period, no members of the public spoke for or against the amendment. The amendment passed unanimously.

Following the approval of the amendment, the commissioners reconsidered a request from Stanly Solar to establish a solar electric generating system overlay district made up of six land parcels near 20165 Old Aquadale Road. During the public comment period, Edward Gann, an adjacent property owner, addressed the commissioners again and expressed concerns with the project. Gann expressed concerns with decommissioning solar farms after their useful life, saying that the loss of the farm land would be detrimental. He also said he was concerned with the impact the solar farm would have on wildlife and esthetics.

Roger Poplin of Greensboro is an owner of the one of the parcels within the project and spoke in favor of the request, saying, “I think it’s a good thing … for Stanly County from a property tax standpoint.”

Dennis Richter, president of Solterra Partners, developer of the solar facility, also spoke in favor of the request.

“A solar farm is a business,” said Richter. “We are coming to Stanly County and wanting to locate one of our businesses — which is the solar farm — here so we can sell kilowatt-hours to Duke Energy.” The investment in the farm will be $70 to $80 million according to Richter. “We believe it’s a good land use,” he said.

Following the discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the zoning request.

The commissioners then moved the proposed budget. Chairman Joseph Burleson opened the public hearing with instructions for members of the public wishing to address the commissioners on the budget. The commission did not vote on the budget, but the public hearing was declared closed by the chair after no one came forward to speak.

“Anyone wishing to speak on this year’s proposed budget? Well, alright; I thought we’d have several folks coming,” said Burleson.

The commissioners later approved a land swap that traded 40 acres of county land in exchange for 28 acres owned by J.T. Russell & Sons which is adjacent to the Stanly County airport. This newly acquired land would allow for airport expansion in support of the National Guard and would provide space to extend the airport’s runway.

The commissioners heard from Becky Weemhoff, senior services director, who presented the county’s aging funding plan. The funding included $416,000 from the federal government, an increase since last year. The commissioners accepted the recommendations from Weemhoff unanimously.

The commissioners appointed Georgia Harvey of Oakboro and Joe Brooks of Albemarle to the Community College Board of Trustees. Dr. Jeff James, county school superintendent, was appointed to the Economic Development Commission Board to replace Ryan McIntyre, who resigned from the Board due to conflicts with his work schedule. In the final appointment made by the commission, Monica Johnson was appointed as the private sector representative to the Centralina Workforce Development Board.

The last business of the evening was the approval of a resolution calling for a countywide referendum on adding a quarter-cent sales tax increase. This came on the heels of the county school board unanimously passing a request for the measure last week. The board has sought to limit the revenue from the sales tax increase to public education purposes and are awaiting the outcome of a bill pending in the N.C. State House of Representatives which would allow such a limitation. The commissioners approved the resolution unanimously.