Solar Farm issue resolved

Published 5:14 pm Friday, January 13, 2023

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AHOSKIE – Plans to construct a 55 megawatt solar farm within the town limits of Ahoskie are moving forward following several delays.

After five months of back-and-forth debate between members of the Ahoskie Town Council and officials with Solar Green Development, LLC, the Council approved a Special Use Permit. That will allow the Charlotte-based company to proceed with its plans to build a solar farm within a 700-acre tract located north of the Memorial Drive and NC 561 East intersection (across the road from Enviva), stretching east/southeast to the intersections of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive at Davis Street and at Monaco Drive. The majority of that property is zoned R-20, which allows for a solar farm to be permitted as a special use.

A decision on granting that permit had been tabled at five previous meetings of the Ahoskie Council. It was at those meetings that Councilman David Hunt expressed concern over wetlands and access easement as well as a map, provided by the company, that showed solar panels within a small portion of the property zoned Heavy Industrial.

Solar Green officials countered those claims by assuring Council members that the company has met, and in some cases exceeded, all standards as noted within the town’s ordinance pertaining to solar farms. Solar Green attorney Tom Terrell stressed that the Special Use Permit only allows the company the right to move forward with the process of applying for numerous other permits.

The issue came up again at this past Tuesday’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Council. There, Terrell said there were questions from the Council at their December meeting that suggested Solar Green was required to first have the necessary environmental permits and building permits before acquiring a special use permit.

“I put this down in writing to show you what the courts of North Carolina say about this,” Terrell said, reading from a memorandum shared with Council members. “You go through zoning first, you go through special use permits first, which are board level decisions, and then you go through the building permits and the administrative permits that are done at staff level. Once the special use permit is obtained, then you go get the other necessary permits.

“This has taken two years; it has been continued five times; the town is still holding $18,000 of this company’s money,” Terrell noted. “We have met every single standard, every single thing that this town has asked of us; done every single thing your ordinance requires. Under those circumstances, Solar Green is entitled to the special use permit….that is the law of North Carolina.”

Terrell’s document cited a 1974 case before the North Carolina Supreme Court involving the Board of Aldermen of the Town of Chapel Hill. In that case, the board opposed the issuance of a conditional use permit for a filling [gas] station in Chapel Hill, stating that the intersection near the proposed station “had been dangerous for twenty-eight years.”

The Court found that “when an applicant has produced competent material and substantial evidence tending to establish the existence of the facts and conditions which the ordinance requires for the issuance of a special use permit, prima facie he is entitled to it.”

Hunt said he was now satisfied that all his questions have been answered.

“I want to tell the citizens of Ahoskie we have, like he [Terrell] said, held them up for the past five months,” Hunt stated. “We have done our homework; we have done our due diligence. From all the information I’ve received, they do meet the requirements. So based on the facts, which is what we have to do, we have no other choice but to approve. I make a motion to approve the solar farm special use permit.”

Councilwoman Linda Blackburn offered a second to Hunt’s motion and it was approved by a 3-0 vote. Councilmen Charles Freeman and Charles Reynolds did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

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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