Northampton approves zoning amendments for solar facilities

Published 4:18 pm Friday, June 7, 2024

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JACKSON – The Northampton County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing and considered changes to the county’s zoning ordinance during their meeting last month, but didn’t make a decision on the regulations regarding solar facilities until their June 3 meeting.

In addition to the existing regulations on solar facilities in Northampton County, the proposed amendments would tighten the restrictions for these kinds of facilities, providing additional oversight for the county.

The proposed changes included the following new additions:

Prior to construction, all solar generation facilities shall obtain the necessary permits from the Northampton County Code Enforcement Office;

All active solar farms shall obtain a zoning permit and be inspected by a Planning & Zoning Officer or Code Enforcement Officer at least once every three years;

Additional inspections shall be conducted as necessary;

Grass, weeds, and other ground cover must not exceed 12 inches in height at any time;

Decommissioning plans shall be recorded by the applicant in the county’s Register of Deeds office;

Decommissioning plans shall be updated at least every five years or upon ownership change; and

Upon abandonment, the county shall notify the responsible party to decommission the site. If they fail to comply, the county may remove equipment, sell any removed materials, initiate judicial proceedings, or take any other enforcement action available.

After discussion during the May meeting, hearing from a handful of people who expressed concerns about the number of solar farms in their community, the commissioners opted to take more time to consider the amendments.

The board also agreed that a moratorium on new solar facility construction would be a good idea so that they could gather more research on the subject. County Attorney Scott McKellar noted that a moratorium can only last for a limited time frame.

Northampton County previously enacted a moratorium on issuing solar farm permits from July 2021 to the end of April 2022. After that, the current solar facility regulations were enacted.

At June’s meeting, McKellar reported he had started the process for a new moratorium and that a public hearing was required as a part of that process. He suggested June 27 as the date for that hearing since the board is already scheduled to hold another public hearing that evening for a proposed fire tax district in Conway and Severn.

Commissioner Ed Martin motioned to approve the public hearing date, and Melvetta Broadnax Taylor seconded. The vote was unanimously in favor.

The zoning ordinance amendments were also unanimously approved after another motion by Martin and another second by Broadnax Taylor.