Board of Adjustments releases details on solar farm denial

Dale Poindexter speaks in opposition to a conditional use permit for a proposed solar farm on Shady Grove Church Road at an Oct. 12 hearing.

The Yadkin County Board of Adjustments has released details of its decision to deny a conditional use permit for a proposed solar farm in the Smithtown community. The three to two vote came after an evening of testimony from neighbors opposed to the project on Oct. 12. During a Sept. 14 hearing representatives for the solar farm testified about the project.

Testimony from Dr. Brian Fannon with the Yadkin Riverkeeper organization as well as Danielle Summerfield, a neighbor to the property and former realtor were among those cited in the decision. Runoff water, real estate values and lack of clarity with submitted proposal were among the concerns that led the board to deny the conditional use permit.

The conditional use permit for the 22-megawatt 285-acre solar farm on parcels of land totaling around 370.5 acres was applied for by Two Hearted Solar, LLC, Mickey and Hilda Smitherman, Shady Grove Partners LLC, Evan and Tina Williams, Jackie and Betsy Williams, Ruth Matthews and Billy Miller. At a Sept. 14 hearing regarding the permit, Tom Terrell, an attorney representing the applicants, explained that the solar farm was a joint venture of Silver Creek Energy and Pine Gate Renewables. At the September meeting, proponents and representatives for the company proposing the solar farm presented in favor of the project. Both public hearings were evidentiary hearings with those speaking for or against the project sworn in as in a court of law.

The board’s decision against the proposal involved a disagreement with the requirement for the permit that “the use will not materially endanger the public health or safety, if located according to the plan submitted and approved.”

”The plan submitted is preliminary in nature and there is not enough clarity shown on the site plan to determine if this standard is met,” reads the decision from the Board of Adjustments. “There are concerns with potential erosion. Dr. Brian Fannon, Yadkin Riverkeeper, testified concerning sediment from the steeper slopes in Yadkin County. Water retention on forestland versus grassland was disputed by Mr. Dale Poindexter. Dr. Brian Fannon testified that there are a lot of values that can be used in water retention and that recently seeded grassland is not the same as a mature grassland which would act as a big sponge. Dr. Brian Fannon testified that the northeast corner had been a concern, the way it is heavily forested and drops off quickly, and he was glad to see that had been addressed but the entire plan needs that level of scrutiny before approval. The Yadkin River supplies drinking water to half a million people downstream who have to have their water treated for sediment already. There are potential multiple runoff issues and there needs to be more detail in the plans moving into these areas that have a lot more terrain variability to make sure that projects that take up several hundred acres in rolling terrain move forward responsibly to avoid damaging water that we rely on.”

The board also cited disagreement with the condition of the proposal that it should “meet all required conditions and specifications.”

“The plan submitted is preliminary in nature and there is not enough detail shown on the site plan to determine if this standard is met,” states the decision. “Allen Poindexter, PE testified. The creek (runoff) does concern him but Dale Poindexter and Dr. Brian Fannon had covered that. Allen Poindexter, PE continued regarding the lack of clarity. The first letter he received showed panels covering the entire site. The applicants held an informational meeting and showed a new plan. Neighbors were told this was a preliminary maximum plan. Allen Poindexter, PE testified that he had looked through the notebook that applicants submitted and it does not specify in the notebook that this is a preliminary site plan; that work of this magnitude should be more mature, this appears to be a first draft, and this development seems to be evolving on a reactive basis.”

In regard to the requirement that “the use will not substantially injure the value of adjoining or abutting property” and that the “location and character of the use, if developed according to the plan submitted and approved, will be in harmony with the area,” the board cited Summerfield’s testimony as the reason it disagreed that this condition was not met.

“No real estate data specific to Yadkin County was submitted. Daniele Summerfield (licensed realtor from 2006-2018) testified on the matching pairs used in applicant’s submitted appraisal report (Richard Kirkland, Aug 2020),” stated the board’s decision. “Daniele Summerfield testified regarding this specific condition in the ordinance. This project is not in conformity with the vision statement, goals and strategies in the Land Use Plan as this project does not maintain the rural character, open space, preserve family farms and agricultural heritage, nor encourage higher quality of residential growth.”

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.