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Currituck denies solar farm

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Barry Ward
Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

CURRITUCK – Currituck commissioners nixed a solar farm proposed for Grandy this week, denying a developer’s requests for both conditional rezoning and a use permit.

San Francisco-based Ecoplexus had asked commissioners to approve the conditional rezoning of 16.49 acres from general business to conditional district-agriculture. The solar farm company had sought the rezoning so it could install solar panels on the eastern portion of the former Goose Creek Golf Course at 6562 Caratoke Highway.

Ecoplexus had also sought a use permit to install solar panels on the north side of Uncle Graham Road at the former golf course.

Commissioners rejected both requests after listening to both representatives of Ecoplexus and citizens and experts who spoke in opposition to the project.

Nathan Rogers, project development manager for Ecoplexus, told commissioners a solar farm at the former Goose Creek site would benefit Currituck because it would put to use land that is currently not being used.

Michael Fox, an attorney representing Ecoplexus, also noted the county would receive more tax revenue if the property were used for a solar farm than if it remains unused. 

“I don’t know your property tax collector, but they would revalue it (after the solar farm is built) and they will bump that value up. So you could get a direct increase on the value of every square footage of dirt on that site...,” he said.

Fox noted that the county originally considered allowing a subdivision to be developed at the former Goose Creek Golf course. He said a solar farm would be better than a subdivision because it would boost property tax revenues without requiring the county to build new schools or provide police and fire services.

Opponents to the solar farm also made their case.

Charles Lawler, an attorney hired to represent citizens of the Goose Creek area opposed to the solar farm, told commissioners that by rezoning a portion of the golf course, they would be allowing uses never intended for the property. Lawler said the Grandy area was planned for commercial and residential development, not a 30-year commitment to industrial use.

He said there are people who bought lots in the Goose Creek area who did not anticipate a solar farm in their neighborhood.

“You can call it a solar farm, but it’s a power plant, it’s static,” he said. “It’s not compatible with the residential use around it.”

Addressing Ecoplexus representatives’ arguments about the revenue increases the solar farm would bring, Gary Woodson said potential commercial development of the property would bring more revenue to the county than a solar farm.

Woodson, a licensed general contractor, said he’s not opposed to solar farms, but the ones in Currituck already approved or being considered for approval are on sites classified as rural or conservation, not for general business.

“It’s not really fitting of agriculture, which doesn’t make sense,” Woodson said.

Currently, SunEnergy1 is constructing a solar farm in Moyock and Ecoplexus is seeking a use permit for a solar farm in Shawboro. 

Commissioner Paul O’Neal said he questioned whether Ecoplexus’ proposed solar farm really would benefit Currituck economically. He said he has yet to meet anyone in Currituck who has gotten a job from a solar farm company.

“As I understand, the labor force is not local people,” he said. “The labor force comes from out of town, builds (the solar farm) and leaves.”

Commissioner Paul Beaumont questioned Rogers which rental equipment companies in Currituck Ecoplexus has bought products from to construct its solar farm in Shawboro.

Rogers said none that he is aware of. However, he noted that if Ecoplexus makes purchases from a company in Chesapeake, Va. or Elizabeth City, it could still help Currituck because many local residents work in those cities and would spend their dollars at home.

Steven Fentre, one of the residents opposed to the solar farm in Grandy, said Wednesday he was pleased with the board’s decisions.

“It was an uphill battle,” Fentre said.

He said having a solar farm in the Goose Creek area would have devalued property values there.

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