Newton Grove Planning Board reverses its decision as area residents raise continued concerns

Last updated: March 05. 2014 3:49PM - 2143 Views
By Emily M. Hobbs Staff Writer

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NEWTON GROVE — A group of concerned residents up in arms over a proposed solar farm being located in their neighborhood got what they’ve been hoping for Tuesday night — a denial of the farm’s application.

That happened during a two-hour Planning and Zoning Board meeting, with some 40 residents attending, many there to share continued concerns over the application that first won approval from the board a month ago.

Residents in the area of Bells Branch Road, where the solar farm was to be located, have expressed concern that having such a venture in the area would devalue their property, something they’ve spoken out about at previous meetings, including in front of the Newton Grove Town Board of Commissioners.

Faye Lewis, of Mid Carolina Council of Governments, made the motion Tuesday night to rescind the Feb. 4 recommendation and eventual approval of the solar farm’s application. The solar farm project, called CU14 02, was proposed to be located at 958 Bells Branch Road.

Confusion has clouded the issue for some time, with residents complaining about meeting notices and dates/times for meetings.

“Adjacent property owners were notified,” said Lewis, who is the Rural Planning Organization Planner for the town, as well as a certified zoning official from the Institute of Government.

Kent Trowbridge, with Solbridge Energy, gave some details about the project to the meeting attendees.

“I do want to state that Solbridge has fully complied with and followed all the application procedures,” he stressed, adding that Solbridge has also received three conditional use permits from Sampson County in the past. He explained that the proposed solar farm was a 2 megawatt project that will have an evergreen buffer of 8 to 10 feet that will be 15 feet wide. The project would be a 12 to 15 acre project that would be 40 feet from the road and 50 feet from the rear.

When asked about health risks, Trowbridge said as far as he knew there were none, other than high voltage. He said that because of the high voltage the area would be secured by a security fence to protect people.

After hearing one resident question the potential for blindness, he explained that these solar farms are allowed in the flight paths of airplanes and noted that the panels do not reflect light back but instead absorb it.

“Is the company a public utility?” asked Doug Smith, a resident who lives on Bells Branch Road.

“The company is not a public utility,” said Trowbridge.

“All the power that is generated will be sold to Duke Energy,” he explained, also pointing out that there would be very limited need for town resources like fire or police.

The buffer for the property would have to be evergreens, but resident Bryan Miller said the type of trees that they had suggested before do not grow well in the area.

“Holly would be an alternative,” added Lewis.

“The point here is we want to put a buffer,” reminded Trowbridge. He said that the whole point of the buffer is to make sure the facility would not be seen no matter what time of year it is.

“The first phase, behind my house, I had no problem with,” said Smith. “But when they started talking about putting one there nobody knew they were going to put one right across the road right in front of my house.” Smith said that if they put a fence and a buffer that would be all that he would see if he walked out his front door.

“I do not like being sandwiched in between solar farms,” Smith read from his notes. He said it will hurt the value of his home, and emphasized that his neighbors also see the same problem, that their property will be of less value too.

“We are very upset about this second phase of this solar farm,” continued Smith.

Bryan and Becky Miller also brought up the possible devaluation of their home. They said that they brought in paperwork from a real estate agent, who was not present at the meeting.

“She has said that property values will decrease at a minimum of 30 percent,” Becky Miller clarified, adding that it could be “possibly more than that.” Miller went on to state that if a property is valued at $200,000 that would mean a loss of $60,000. She said that it was a huge problem for a middle class person.

Susan Leventhal spoke next, reiterating the items that were previously mentioned to the planning board.

“Personally I do not want a solar farm in my back yard,” she continued. She went on to detail how she had moved from the city to the country and also said that many of the counties she has lived in have done away with their solar systems because they are not sustainable.

Bryan Miller also stressed that the proposed farm was not, in his opinion, in the best interest of Newton Grove, and he cited concerns about the unknown long term effects of the farm, as an example of why.

“We are not the scattered residential community that wants our property taken over by solar farms,” he stressed.

The planning board denied the request for the approval of the conditional use permit. That will now go back before town commissioners who are set to meet in regular session Monday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Emily M. Hobbs can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 122 or via email at ebrown@civitasmedia.com.

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