The Greene County Regional Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a site plan for a solar farm and declined to approve a resolution that would have changed zoning regulations for future solar farms.
A solar farm along South Liberty Hill Road, owned by the Silicon Ranch Company, has been approved by the Planning Commission.
According to Emma Tillitski, senior project development associate at Silicon Ranch, the solar farm, the second of four planned Silicon Ranch locations, will cover approximately 60 acres of the 141-acre property with solar arrays that will provide approximately 4.75 megawatts of power. electricity that will be sold. to the Greeneville Lighting and Power System.
The first solar farm site has been approved for an 80-acre lot in Tusculum, near Ball Road.
Stacy Bolton, an engineer with GLPS, told the Planning Commission that GLPS and Silicon Ranch entered into a 30-year fixed price contract to sell electricity to the local utility.
According to Bolton, solar farm sites will likely limit the amount of local electric rate increases because electricity from solar farms is cheaper than electricity that must be purchased from the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA currently allows utilities to purchase 17 megawatts of electricity through renewable means.
The South Liberty Hill Road solar farm will have a gravel road, two inverters placed on concrete, and the solar panels themselves which will be placed on poles 8 feet above the natural ground, not on gravel or asphalt , according to Tillitsky. Natural grass will be mowed or possibly maintained by sheep across Silicon Valley.
Once the necessary permits are signed at the Greene County Building and Zoning Department, work to set up the solar farm will begin.
A third solar farm site via Silicon Ranch is in the works for the former Austen Farm located near the Asheville Freeway.
The former Austen property is currently owned by The Band Perry siblings: Kimberly Perry Costello, Neil Perry and Reid Perry.
The proposed third location prompted some area residents to voice concerns at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, as the commission considered a resolution sponsored by County Commissioners Pam Carpenter and Lloyd “Hoot” Bowers that could ban solar farms in A-1 General Agricultural Districts.
The resolution, which the Planning Commission unanimously declined to support, would require solar farms to be located in M-1 Industrial Districts.
The resolution will still go before the Greene County Commission in July, but it will go without the support of the Greene County Planning Commission.
Greene County Attorney Roger Woolsey noted that some solar farm regulations were already being implemented in A-1 districts in 2015 and said the resolution that would only allow solar farms in M districts -1 was imperfect.
“Obviously there are real issues with this resolution as written,” Woolsey said. “Most M-1 properties are in industrial park areas and they are very limited.”
Woolsey asked Tim Tweed, Greene County Building and Zoning Office Manager, if he could think of a parcel of land in Greene County in an M-1 district that had enough space for a farm. solar.
Tweed replied that he couldn’t think of any land in a current M-1 district that would be suitable for a solar farm.
Woolsey told the Planning Commission that the resolution would lead to “spot zoning”, which is the practice of isolating individual parcels of land for a different use classification than the surrounding area.
“Spot zoning” can be done to the benefit of one property owner, but to the detriment of other owners.
The resolution could force future solar farms looking to locate in Greene County to come before the Planning Commission and request that properties in other districts be rezoned to M-1.
“The county doesn’t like to do ‘spot zoning’. The case law shows it’s suspect,” Woolsey said.
Woolsey also noted that “spot zoning” often leads to litigation and could lead to integrity issues for the Planning Commission.
Woolsey expressed concern that in the future, those wishing to have their property rezoned could be refused if they were not liked by members of the Planning Commission, or permission could be granted if they were popular with the Planning Commission or knew the right people.
“It could become a popularity contest. It could become someone you know and you don’t know. If you like someone, you can grant their request, but if you don’t like someone another, you refuse it,” Woolsey said. “Honestly, the Planning Commission is supposed to be blind and treat everyone fairly.”
Woolsey told the Planning Commission it could also risk putting a burden on landowners’ rights.
“A lot of us are landlords and we don’t like being told what we can and can’t do with our property,” Woolsey said.
Residents who live near the former Austen property which is likely to be purchased by Silicon Ranch for the third solar farm installation expressed their concerns at the meeting and spoke out in favor of banning solar farms in districts A-1.
“Getting from A-1 to M-1 is crucial. We can debate whether we have enough M-1 land, but that’s not our problem,” Whirlwind Road’s Charles Montgomery told AFP. the Commission. .
Steve Ottinger of Par Lane expressed concerns about wildlife in the area and property values.
“I’m concerned about property values. I don’t know a single person who wants a solar farm in their backyard,” Ottinger said. “We have a lot of wildlife in this area that we love to see. I don’t want them damaged.”
Kent Bewley, who resides on the Asheville Freeway, also spoke out in favor of allowing solar farms only in M-1 districts.
“It will destroy a lot of farms in this area,” Bewley said.
Bewley also said the Austen family would not want the land used for solar farm purposes.
“We have to protect our farmland. It’s the biggest asset we have,” said Gary Randals of the Asheville Highway.
Marie Perry, the mother of The Band Perry siblings who reside on East Allens Bridge Road, spoke at the meeting and noted that she was not against solar farms, but felt that ownership maybe wasn’t the right one for one. She supported the resolution to limit solar farms to M-1 districts.
“I want to protect our opinions. I want to protect our land,” said Marie Perry.
Neil Perry spoke out against changing regulations regarding solar farms and noted that it could lead to neighbors controlling what is done on private property.
“Change would set a dangerous precedent. Anyone who is not in favor of using their neighbors’ land could stop it,” said Neil Perry.
Eddie Yokley of Old Kentucky Road South, who works in real estate with Classic Land & Auction Service Specialists, warned the board of possible ramifications of “spot zoning” that could occur if the change was made to prohibit solar farms in A-1 neighborhoods.
Yokley, who said he was neutral on the issue, argued that once a property is rezoned, possibly through “spot zoning”, to M-1 to allow a solar farm, it would remain M-1 after solar farm operations ceased or ownership changed hands. The new owner would then be in M-1 zoning rights to explore other industries for the property.
This would allow manufacturing and industrial sites to spawn in single-plot M-1 districts in the middle of an otherwise A-1 district, due to a property being “located” on M-1 to allow for a farm solar, he said. .
The Planning Commission briefly deliberated on the matter following public comments.
Planning Commission Member Jason Cobble noted that he is concerned about the “quality of life” of Greene County residents if steps are not taken to change the county’s solar farm regulations.
Kristin Girton, a member of the Planning Commission, expressed concern that the rights of landowners would be undermined if the resolution to ban solar farms in A-1 districts is supported.
“It could prevent people from selling land and doing what they want with it,” Girton said. “It’s the definition of government stepping on who you are.”
Amy Tweed of the Greene County Planning Department warned the planning commission to consider all of Greene County when discussing changing zoning regulations, not just the possible former solar farm. owned by Austen.
“We really have to look and consider all of Greene County when we do something like this,” Amy Tweed said.
The commission reached an agreement that the decision to change zoning regulations should not be rushed and should consider all of Greene County.
The Planning Commission then voted unanimously by roll-call vote not to approve the resolution amending the zoning by-law for solar farms.
However, after refusing to support the resolution that would require solar farms to be located in M-1 districts, the Planning Commission voted to have the Greene County Building and Zoning Department review possible changes to the regulations. solar farms and bring any changes to the next planning committee meeting in July for discussion.
According to Amy Tweed, possible changes to solar farm regulations could include increased buffers in A-1 districts or stipulations based on proximity to residential developments.
The Greene County Commission will consider the resolution banning solar farms in A-1 districts at its July meeting because the resolution was not submitted early enough to be on the June agenda.