Solar farm moves forward, rezoning stalls out

IN THE ZONE: Commissioners unanimously denied a zoning request that had multiple members of Fairview voicing opposition to the request.
IN THE ZONE: Commissioners unanimously denied a zoning request that had multiple members of Fairview voicing opposition to the request. Graphic courtesy of Buncombe County

Buncombe County will move forward with a solar farm project some commissioners previously threw shade at, a decision made during their Sept. 5 meeting. The evening also saw about 30 people from the Fairview community show up to contest a rezoning request that ultimately failed.

Bright future

In May, commissioners approved a deal with Duke Energy to conduct a feasibility study for a proposed solar farm at the old landfill in Woodfin. While approved, it raised concerns that companies other than Duke were not included, and the following month commissioners approved a redo and opened up a request for proposal process.

County staff told commissioners the process generated interest from six companies and ultimately yielded three bids. County Planning Director Jon Creighton told commissioners, “The chosen company will have to determine exactly how much of the area is usable, the size of the system … then look at distribution, the closest substation, are the lines big enough to carry the amount of power generated from the site.

“Duke made the best proposal with the life of the lease being up to 40 years and letting us do maintenance and reimbursing us [for maintenance] was attractive,” Creighton added, noting that county grounds crews are currently tending to the old landfill and they want the ability to “jump on” any potential issues right away. With that, he recommended commissioners approve a deal with Duke.

“I voted ‘no’ last time and I’m glad we went through the routine to do it right,” said Commissioner Robert Pressley. Other commissioners added their thoughts about transparency and being at ease with Duke’s bid rising to the top before unanimously approving the development deal.

County staff estimated about 30 acres will be available for solar panels and could create as much as 4 megawatts of power.

Solar Farm RFPs

Knoll and void

A rezoning request for a 4-acre parcel at 50 Hemphill Knoll Road brought out a crowd to speak against it. The request would change the property from R-1 to R-3, a designation that allows for “higher-density uses such as multifamily residential units, planned unit developments and mobile home parks,” according to the county’s zoning ordinance.

That multifamily use was highlighted among other development concerns about traffic, stormwater runoff and loss of trees.

“This zoning request violates expectations. Perhaps the surrounding area has evolved into new uses, that’s not the case here. … Perhaps the land was purchased prior to zoning, but it was transferred in 2016 with full access to allowable uses. The R-1 designation is intended to protect [home owners] from encroachment,” said Cedar Wood Estates resident Keith Levi.

In all, eight people spoke against the rezoning request, with nobody arguing for it.

Commissioner Joe Belcher asked county staff about the intent of the project, what stormwater mitigation would be required and if clear-cutting would be permitted.

County Planner Debbie Truempy told commissioners that rezonings are not tied to development plans and that anything within the threshold of R-3 would be allowed. In regard to stormwater, the county mandates it be at predevelopment levels. Truempy also noted, “Clear-cutting would be allowed.”

Commissioner Mike Fryar said, “Look how many people showed up against it. I’d like to know where the developer is.”

There was no further discussion as commissioners unanimously denied the rezoning request.

During the meeting, commissioners also questioned if money from the Buncombe County detention center’s commissary should be used to fund a technology request from the District Attorney. You can read that recap here.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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