LUMBERTON — The company denied a conditional-use permit by the Robeson County Board of Commissioners that it needs to establish a solar farm just outside of Rowland is appealing the board’s decision.
The appeal hearing will be held before the Robeson County Board of Adjustment at 5 p.m. Monday, May 6, in the commissioners’ room of the county administration building on North Elm Street.
On April 1, Commissioners Jerry Stephens, Roger Oxendine and Lance Herndon joined Commissioner Hubert Sealey, whose district includes Rowland, in voting against granting the permit that Carolina Solar Energy of Durham needs to establish and operate the farm. Commissioners Tom Taylor, Noah Woods, Raymond Cummings and David Edge voted in favor of granting the permit.
County Attorney Hal Kinlaw said the deadlocked vote resulted in a denial, but after a short recess he asked for a substitute motion so the record of the vote would be clear. Edge then made a motion to grant the permit that died for lack of a second. Kinlaw again ruled that the board’s action resulted in a denial.
Carolina Solar Energy wants to install 26,000 solar panels on about 35 acres of a 64-acre tract of land in a Residential-Agricultural district on N.C. 130. The company has said the proposed five-megawatt farm would produce 9,289,000 kilowatt hours of energy each year, enough to power 750 to 800 homes, increase property taxes on the land from $685 to $28,410 a year and employ about 130 workers during a three- to four-month construction period.
Several nearby property owners are strongly opposed to the farm. The town of Rowland has also opposed the project.
“I’m sure the property owners have not changed their minds about the farm’s location,” Rowland Mayor Elizabeth Hunt said Friday. “I have not changed my mind. I believe there are better places in the county for a solar farm to be located.”
As of Friday, Hunt said the town had not officially received notification of the upcoming hearing.
Michelle Frizzell, the county’s planning and zoning administrator, said notification of the hearing was mailed to the town on Friday, at the same time notices were mailed to adjacent property owners. Although the county is not required to do so, as a courtesy it officially notifies a municipality when a proposed project — such as a solar farm or subdivision — is proposed for within one mile of that municipality’s border, Frizzell said.
She added that both the solar company and those opposing the project can submit new evidence at the hearing before the Board of Adjustment.
“I have spoken with the adjacent property owners and advised them it would be to their benefit if they do present evidence at the hearing,” she said.
During the April 1 hearing, Hunt and others opposing the project asked the commissioners to consider long-term health effects and what the farm might do to area property values.
At the hearing, Mark Brooks, an attorney representing Charles McCallum and Susan McCallum Rudisill, the property owners, argued that denial of the permit is not in line with similar decisions by the county. He said three previous requests for permits for solar farms had been approved.
Terry Evans, a member of Robeson County’s Planning Board, said Friday that he still supports granting the solar company the conditional-use permit to develop the farm. The Planning Board had recommended to the commissioners that the permit be granted.
“It is wrong to turn down this one applicant when they have met all of the same conditions as those that were granted permits (previously),” Evans said. “It’s just wrong.”