LUMBERTON — After hearing additional evidence, the Robeson County Zoning Board of Adjustment on Monday reversed last month’s decision by the Board of Commissioners to deny a conditional-use permit for a solar farm in a Residential Agricultural district just outside of Rowland.
The five commissioners making up the board — Noah Woods, Raymond Cummings, Tom Taylor, Hubert Sealey and David Edge — all voted in favor of granting the permit. Commissioner Lance Herndon voted against granting the permit, but he was not appointed at the beginning of the meeting to be a voting member of the five-member board.
“All I can say is I’m very disappointed in county politics,” said Elizabeth Hunt, mayor of Rowland.
Rowland officials and several adjacent property owners have opposed construction of the five-megawatt farm to be built on about 35 acres of a 64-acre tract on N.C. 130. They have raised concerns about possible health effects and nearby property values if the proposed farm is built. They said the property should remain as farmland or be developed in a way that will create jobs.
Hunt was among about a half dozen Rowland residents to speak out Monday. The residents, however, did not provide any new evidence.
The appeal was made by Strata Solar of Chapel Hill, and McCallum Farm LLC. Elizabeth C. Trahos, an attorney from Raleigh, and six people, including engineers and real estate appraisers, spoke in defense of the project.
They said the farm will not lower property values, or interfere with the normal development.
Commissioner Hubert Sealey, who represents the district, made the motion to approve the conditional-use permit contingent on the developer of the farm meeting all of the regulations established by the Planning Board.
Sealey said that he met last week with a representative of Strata and about 35 concerned residents.
“The bottom line was that most were concerned about the location,” said Sealey, who had voted against the permit in April. “I personally had some questions and concerns about health and safety, but they were answered.
“I don’t know of anyone who was at the meeting that could have left without getting answers to their questions,” he said.
According to plans for the farm, 26,000 solar panels will be installed, and the farm will enough electricity to power 750 to 800 homes a year, increase property taxes on the land from $685 to $28,410 a year and employ about 130 workers during a construction period.