A rezoning application associated with a potential solar generating project in Madison County was tabled last week following a public hearing.
James and Jean Beall and Springbrook Farm LLC representative Tina Weaver have applied to rezone approximately 91.89 acres beside Yoder’s Country Market to limited industrial M1. The property is currently split zoned agriculture A1 and general business B1. The rezoning is necessary to accommodate the county’s zoning ordinance which requires solar projects to be located on M1 zoned property. Should the rezoning be approved, the applicants plan to submit a zoning text amendment application and a special use permit (SUP) application to develop a commercial solar energy facility on the property.
The potential solar project, which is one of approximately 6,000 that have been approved or proposed in Virginia, has been discussed for several months with developer Yarotek having presented information to both the planning commission and the board of supervisors. If developed, the project would tie into the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative (REC) electrical grid and would be approximately 12 megawatts to meet their limitations.
A change in the county’s minimum setback restrictions would be necessary to make the project feasible, which is where the zoning text amendment comes in. The applicants would request the ordinance be amended to allow for setbacks of just 100 feet, compared to the 300 feet in the ordinance. A subcommittee of the planning commission has already met and discussed the potential change, agreeing that amending the ordinance to include a setback of 100-300 feet would be more appropriate. Committee chair Fay Utz said the original setback was written with a large solar project in mind, not a smaller one like the one being applied for.
Other requirements in the ordinance would be upheld including a tree buffer and fencing, as well as returning the land to 100% of its previous state once the project is decommissioned in 25 years.
If ultimately approved and built, the project could generate local revenue. In addition to the rollback taxes the owners will have to pay when taking the property out of land use, industrial parcels are taxed at a higher rate. Also, last year the Virginia General Assembly passed a law allowing localities to negotiate revenue-sharing agreements with solar develops so that the developer makes yearly payments per megawatt of energy installed. The law has resulted in significant revenue for counties throughout the state. The revenue would basically be in the form of an annual tax on the project and has been estimated to be approximately $1,400 per megawatt annually for Madison County.
The rezoning application was the subject of a joint public hearing of the Madison County Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission last week. During the hearing, county leaders received a letter of opposition from David and Sherrie Wise and in-person comments from landowners Allan and Erin Nichols who own property south of the proposed development site. The Nichols said a solar production project isn’t compatible with the county’s comprehensive plan. Allan Nichols also took issue with removing farmland from agricultural use for a more industrial use which could eventually become anything other than a solar farm.
“The site isn’t viable for what they want to do,” he said. “I feel like other sites are available for this. Putting solar here is a waste and the zoning change is completely inappropriate.”
Erin Nichols added that there are more effective ways to do the project.
Piedmont Environmental Council representative Adam Gillenwater said while the organization is supportive of renewable energy, the zoning change is a major concern.
The Bealls and Weaver have proffered that the rezoning would be conditional and the property would only be used to create a solar project. The rezoning and the proffer would go with the land, while a SUP typically goes with the applicant.
Planning commission Pete Elliott said the land in question has been in the family for a long time and the family has paid a lot of tax. He added that he’s a strong advocate for property rights.
The rezoning application was recommended by planning commissioners for approval by the board of supervisors 8-0. Commissioner Peter Work was absent.
When it came time for the supervisors to make a decision on the application, James Beall requested that it be tabled. When an application is tabled by an applicant, the supervisors then have 180 days to act on it.