Rezoning denied

Published 9:50 am Thursday, April 20, 2017

JACKSON – Solar farms were the hot topic of discussion during the Northampton County Board of Commissioners regular meeting held on April 17. A public hearing to discuss rezoning a particular piece of land for solar farm use was on the meeting’s agenda.

The approximately 327 acre parcel of land in question is located outside of Seaboard near Highway 305, and the landowner’s request was to rezone the property from Light Industrial use to Agricultural-Residential use. The owner had been approached by the company SunEnergy1 for the purpose of building a solar farm on the land.

Solar Power Generation Facilities are listed under permitted uses for Agricultural-Residential districts.

Zoning Director William Flynn addressed the Board to present information on necessary factors to consider for rezoning requests. These items included the relative size of the property, disparity of uses between Light Industrial and Agricultural-Residential zoning districts, the benefits and detriments, and the county’s land use plan.

Flynn’s submitted information explained each item for consideration in detail.

In particular, the research indicated that rezoning to Agricultural-Residential use would provide little benefit to the community and the county because the electricity from the solar farm would likely go to larger cities and would not provide local jobs after the completion of construction.

Additionally, rezoning the property would not seem to fit with Northampton County’s land use plan, which is used as a projected growth plan for the county. The land in question had been earmarked for potential light industrial use and changing that would go against the established plan.

Flynn concluded his testimony by stating, “staff is of the opinion that the rezoning of this property would be considered illegal spot zoning and recommends against rezoning this parcel of land from Light Industrial to Agricultural-Residential.”

The landowner, originally a resident of Seaboard but now living out of state, had the opportunity to provide testimony in support of rezoning the property. The owner explained that the solar company, SunEnergy1, uses recyclable materials and would provide energy that would stay within North Carolina. The company would also use local labor to install and to perform maintenance on the property.

After testimony was provided, the floor was opened up for public comments on the rezoning issue. The general consensus from the public was that solar farms are detrimental to the agriculture industry of Northampton County by taking valuable land away from the farmers, and there is not enough community benefit to justify rezoning.

Once public comments were closed, the Board voted to make a decision. Commissioner Charles Tyner motioned to deny the rezoning request. The commissioners unanimously voted for the land to remain as it is currently zoned for Light Industrial use.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Commissioner Fannie Greene expressed concern about the number of solar farm requests they were receiving.

County Manager Kimberly Turner announced that a Public Forum concerning solar farms will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3 in the J.W. Faison Building auditorium. Commissioner Chair Robert Carter concluded the meeting by encouraging people to attend the upcoming forum.