Dual solar facilities approved for Sunbury

Published 8:06 am Monday, September 30, 2013

SUNBURY – Gates County’s “wide open” spaces welcome the sun’s brilliant rays each and every day.

Apparently, that fact has led an Arizona-based company to construct a pair of solar farms just east of Sunbury off US 158.

And in another major economic development announcement, it appears the Gates House, a 70-bed adult care facility planned for the Merchants Commerce Center located on US 158 across from Gates County High School, will be constructed after the project experienced several delays.

On Tuesday of last week, the Solon Corporation – based in Tucson, AZ – had their special use permit request for the solar farms approved by the Gates County Board of Adjustments. Each solar farm represents a $10 million investment in Gates County.

According to County Manager Jon Mendenhall, the two solar farms will be built on separate 50-acre tracts located across the road (US 158 near East Coast Equipment, a John Deere dealership) from each other. Mendenhall said that in addition to the actual tracts where the solar farms will be sited, Solon has also leased additional acreage in order to satisfy the county’s newly adopted regulations dealing with such entities.

“The total acreage for one tract is 114 acres while the other is 200 acres, both to meet the buffer area requirements for solar farms,” Mendenhall said.

He said there was no timetable “set in stone” as to the construction and opening of the solar farms. However, he said there is the possibility they may be up and running by the end of the current calendar year.

“We’re excited about this investment in our county,” Mendenhall stated.

The door allowing solar farms into the county was opened on Sept. 16 when the Gates County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of revising the table of permitted uses of the county’s zoning ordinance. Those revisions included:

Allowing solar farms by a special use permit in an A-1 district and an I-1 district;

A fence of no less than six feet is required. Such fence shall have a locked gate, posted with no trespassing signs, include the name, contact information, and emergency contact information of the operating entity in responsible charge of the site affixed to the fence at the primary entrance to the site;

A 50-foot planted buffer shall be required along all sides (of the solar farm), except that the roadway frontage of any solar farm shall have a planted, permanent berm installed so as to fully screen the facility from view by the public along the public right-of-way;

Substation, switch gear and appurtenances thereto associated with the solar farm, located on the property of the solar farm, shall conform to the fencing requirement;

Solar farms fronting a United States highway (US 158 in this case) or any federal aid highway shall provide a 100-foot setback from the right-of-way; and

Solar farms located within a projected future transportation corridor shall reserve right-of-way for said corridor as deemed appropriate by the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

As far as the Gates House, that long-awaited project took a big step forward on Friday of last week. During an emergency meeting of the county commissioners, the sewer capacity was reserved for that facility.

“It’s to our understanding that they (Gates House) are coming here,” Mendenhall said. “Hopefully we will soon see a shovel in the ground.”

When asked if the Gates House plans are the same as they were when Meridian Senior Living announced in April of 2012 of their intention to build the local facility, Mendenhall stated, “The (sewer capacity) data that was shared with the commissioners on Friday of last week is the same data that Meridian shared with the county when they made their initial announcement.”

According to the original announcement, construction on the facility was expected to begin in May of this year, and completed within a 12-month period.

At the April 3, 2013 meeting of the commissioners, Chuck Brothers, a member of the Gates County Planning Board, expressed his concerns about the Gates House project. At that time, Brothers noted through documentation he discovered online as well as material he received by way of a public records request, the project was supposed to be at 25 percent completion by Sept. 31 of this year.

Brothers stated that one document he viewed was linked to Chuck White Development, Hickory, NC.

“On this particular document, the state gives a detailed outline as to what, when and where this process was to start,” Brothers said. “On Dec. 2, 2012, a permanent loan was to be executed. On Dec. 2, 2012, a site was to be purchased. Final drawings were to be submitted to the construction section of DHSR on Jan. 15, 2013 and a construction contract awarded on Feb. 6, 2013. The next item to be tapped into, but we have yet to get there, would be May 7 where the building permit is scheduled to be obtained. It ends with the date of October of 2014 where Medicare and Medicaid certification should be granted.”

He added that the documents he reviewed made it appear that Meridian was waiting on the completion of phase 1 of GatesCounty’s sewer system, which was completed in the spring of this year.

At the April meeting, Brothers was told by Commission Chairman Henry Jordan that many of the concerns he mentioned had been brought to White’s attention by county leaders.

According to information released by Meridian Senior Living when they announced the selection of Gates County as their newest development area, the project is to be a public-private partnership. Financing comes through publically traded Real Estate Investment Trust Funds or with private equity banks that specialize in healthcare real estate projects.

Housing and medical care for those occupants can be paid through Medicaid or private pay.

The 28,000 square foot Gates House will feature the latest style of construction used by Meridian. Double occupancy bedrooms will be offered. The facility also features a full kitchen as well as a dining room, activity room and living room, complete with Internet access. Advanced security measures are a key element of operation. Housing and medical care for those occupants can be paid through Medicaid or private pay.

Meridian is no stranger to the local area. Of the 38 properties owned or managed (or both) by Meridian in North Carolina, eight are in the northeastern part of the state – Ahoskie House, Edenton House, Currituck House, Windsor House, Williamston House, Rich Square Manor, Rich Square Villa and Hampton House in Gaston.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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