Town leaders on Monday began considering a rezoning request for part of the land where developers want to construct a solar farm on the south edge of Zebulon.
Any action on the matter, however, will have to wait until at least the May 23 meeting of the planning board, which did not have enough members present Monday to make a recommendation to the town board. Only three of its seven members were present at the public hearing.
Zebulon senior planner Julie Spriggs said the absent board members – Gene Blount, David Covington, Laura Johnson and Larry Ray – will have to come to town hall and listen to the audio recording of the public hearing prior to their May 23 meeting in order to be eligible to vote on the request.
The public hearing featured familiar arguments from those in favor of and opposed to the rezoning request made by Cypress Creek Renewables. That group and Pine Gate Development are planning a 30-acre solar farm for three parcels that take up about 46 acres between South Wakefield Street and South Arendell Avenue.
The two southern parcels (about 41 acres) already carry a zoning classification that allows for solar farms with a general use permit, but the smaller, northern parcel (about 5.5 acres) does not. The applicants are requesting the smaller parcel be rezoned to match the zoning of the other two parcels.
The main differences in the two residential classifications are that the lower-density zoning being requested allows for solar farms and agricultural production (crops) with a general use permit.
“It is consistent with the (Zebulon) comprehensive plan,” Brett Hanna, a Smith Moore Leatherwood attorney representing the applicants, said of the request.
Hanna echoed comments from Spriggs’ staff report that if the parcel is rezoned to the less restrictive classification being requested, it can serve as a transitional area between the higher-density areas found closer to town and the more rural areas to the south.
Also speaking in favor of the request were Martha Horton Vinson, the daughter of landowner Elizabeth Horton, and Tommy Vinson. The family intends to lease the property for 20 years.
“Based on my family’s feelings, we would like to have this approved,” Tommy Vinson said at the hearing.
Staff is also recommending approval of the request, “based on the close proximity of (the same) residential zoning, land use activity, and its location.”
John Craig, who has been a vocal opponent of the plan since it was first presented, spoke against the request at Monday’s hearing.
He and his wife, Jeanne, kept the developers busy with questions during a pair of informational meetings held at the Zebulon Community Center prior to the hearing. They have voiced concerns that they couldn’t find another solar farm this close to residential areas to draw comparisons from, and about electromagnetic fields, sound, glare, tax value to the town, and buffers for the proposed solar farm.
While the hearing was for a rezoning request, and not specifically for a solar farm, it was the only chance for the Board of Commissioners to hear concerns from the public regarding the planned solar farm at an official meeting. If commissioners approve the rezoning request, all the developers would need to begin construction on the solar farm would be site plan approval from Zebulon’s Technical Review Committee.
“This project only has two winners,” John Craig said at the hearing. “The non-town residents who are proposing the project for their profit and the company from Carrboro who would build it. Because these folks can make money, does that guarantee there won’t be a loss when the surrounding residents try to sell their property? The neighbors would be taking the risk, while the owners take the money.”
Craig noted that another solar farm proposed several years ago was snuffed out by town leaders based on the concerns of residents.
“Our concerns are no less valid now, in 2016, at this end of town, if indeed, moreso given the proximity to the town center,” he said. “We, the tax paying residents depend on you as our elected officials to be the gatekeepers.
“The decision you make here tonight will shape our town’s fortunes for at least the 20 years of the lease. I urge you to keep the zoning as it exists and reject the solar farm plan.”