Solar farms are now allowed with a general use permit in all three parcels where developers have announced plans for an array on the southern edge of town.
Zebulon commissioners on Monday followed the recommendation of town staff and the Planning Board in approving the rezoning of a 5.5-acre parcel to a lower-density residential classification that matches the two contiguous parcels to the south, which take up about 41 acres.
Mayor Bob Matheny, before the decision was made, reminded the board that the task in front of them was exclusively to consider the rezoning request, despite the solar farm plans for the land that family members of Elizabeth Horton intend to lease for 20 years being well known.
Solar farms and agricultural production are the only two uses allowed under the new zoning that were not allowed under the existing zoning.
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“I just want to be sure that everybody understands that all of the media and everything has been focused on solar farms, and this is not a special use permit hearing,” Matheny said. “It’s not specifically on solar farms; it is a legislative zoning hearing which asks is (the requested zoning) appropriate in that location considering adjacent properties.”
The decision brought an end to the efforts of John and Jeanne Craig, whose property on South Arendell Avenue backs up to the rezoned space. To them, and others, the rezoning request was about a solar farm.
The Craigs raised questions and concerns regarding solar farms ever since the developers held an initial meeting to hear feedback from neighboring residents in January. Most of the concerns revolved around buffers and the prospect of a solar farm being visible from the Craigs’ back yard.
In an email to the Eastern Wake News, Jeanne Craig said town leaders did not give the request or the concerns of residents enough attention. John Craig spoke against the request during a public hearing May 9.
“Through all these meetings, we have never heard Cypress (Creek), voters, elected officials explain why it is a good idea for Zebulon,” Jeanne Craig said in the email. “We have strongly opposed it related to bringing zero jobs, no housing development, and lower property values in our area.
“Never, never, never once did the mayor or the town commissioners explain why they said yes to solar farms so close to residents. They could have been a part of the conversation, or started a dialogue with their voters.”
Town staff’s recommendation was based on the close proximity of the same residential zoning, land use activity and location. Senior planner Julie Spriggs said the requested zoning serves well as a transition between surrounding properties, and Planning Board members agreed as they recommended approval May 23.
Site plan under review
Cypress Creek Renewables and Pine Gate Development wanted to include the smaller, northern parcel as part of a 30-acre solar farm being planned between South Wakefield Street and South Arendell Avenue because they expect wetland issues to interfere with construction on the east side of the southern parcels.
They could have developed the solar farm without the smaller parcel, but having it makes it possible to achieve the plan originally envisioned for the project, according to Phillip Martin with Cypress Creek.
“We will be using that parcel,” Martin said. “The design would be better with that northern parcel.”
The developers now need only site plan approval from Zebulon’s Technical Review Committee before they can begin construction.
The developers accommodated some concerns by increasing the setback for the solar farm in the 5.5-acre parcel to 200 feet from South Arendell Avenue residential properties. The site plan calls for vegetated buffers for the first 40 feet closest to the residential property lines, open space for the next 160 feet and an 8-foot fence at the 200-foot line.
For the remaining border, the town requires a 20-foot vegetated buffer. Martin said there is generally another 20-foot setback past the buffer that allows space for accessing a solar farm.
Martin said he was uncertain of a timeline on construction but that site plans have already been submitted to the town.
The TRC review could be complete within a couple weeks, Spriggs said.