LINCOLNTON Saying 26,000 solar panels are a bad fit in an area filled with hundreds of homes, neighbors urged Lincoln County commissioners this week to reject plans for a 36-acre solar farm off Webbs Road at Lake Norman.
During a 6 1/2-hour public hearing that lasted until nearly 1 a.m. Tuesday, residents and the experts they retained said an industrial operation like Strata Solar?s has no business in a slice of the lake area that has 800 homes, including the higher-end Sailview community.
?There are right places and wrong places…,? former city of Gastonia Planning Director Jack Kiser told commissioners at the James W. Warren Citizens Center. ?You don?t need a planner like me to tell you it?s not in harmony with the area. It?s just plain old common sense.?
Commissioners are scheduled to decide whether to issue a permit for the solar farm at their meeting at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 16. They will first await a recommendation from the Lincoln County Planning Board, which is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
Several hundred residents attended this week?s public hearing. All but one of the nearly 20 residents who spoke at the hearing said they opposed the solar farm. At least 60 others who signed up to the speak chose not to approach the microphone because their points had been made by other opponents.
Resident Martha McLean said the potential buyer of a $225,000 home she owns on Burton Lane near the project site backed out after seeing a sign for the Solar Strata hearing. ?When you look out the kitchen window, you will see solar panels if the solar farm is approved,? McLean said. She hasn?t been able to sell the home, she said.
Jane Roddy, a real estate agent with Allen Tate Co., said the number of homes under contract in Sailview fell 66.7 percent from June 17 to Nov. 18. By comparison, the number of homes under contract in the lakefront Peninsula community in Cornelius rose 18.2 percent. ?I believe it is very attributable to the solar farm,? Roddy said of the Sailview decline.
Ted Campbell, who lives on Ashley Lane near Sailview, said none of the 20 to 25 solar farms he visited across the country and world for his company were in the middle of a residential area. He retired from Schneider Electric, a $40 billion global company that trades on the French stock exchange and in part provides and installs electrical equipment for solar farms, he said.
Opponents also came with real estate appraisers who cited declining property values near such farms elsewhere in the state. Strata Solar?s appraisers provided evidence contradicting those findings.
Chapel Hill-based Strata Solar is North Carolina?s largest solar developer with about 50 solar farms. The company wants to build its eastern Lincoln County solar farm on both the north and south sides of Webbs Road at Burton Lane, on property owned by longtime local residents Gary and Virginia Dellinger, Timothy Dellinger and Dellinger Septic Tank Co.
Homes worth a total of $400 million surround the site, opponent George Arena, a former Lincoln County commissioner, has said.
Soybeans are now grown on the 36-acre site where Strata Solar hopes to build the farm.
Webbs Road drivers now also pass a county trash and recycling center, a concrete plant and property where Porta-Jons are stored. All are visible from the road. Trees and a berm block Sailview residents? view of Webbs Road, although residents said that they?d see the solar panels from their second floors.
Because agricultural uses don?t need county permission, the property owners could build a hog or chicken farm if they wanted, Lincoln County Zoning Administrator Randy Hawkins has said.
Strata Solar says its farms don?t hurt surrounding property values. In its application, the company says the farm ?won?t generate significant noise or traffic. It will be buffered from roads and neighboring properties.?
The company says its plan meets the county?s setback and buffer requirements.
?The facility won?t produce any emissions or contain hazardous materials,? the application adds. ?The passive nature of this use will fit in with this primarily residential area.?
Monday night, a Strata Solar representative said the solar farm would include tree plantings and opaque wood fencing ? not the chain-link fencing first proposed. He said the company wants the landscaping to resemble Sailview?s.
That didn?t appease opponents, including Nadine Deason, an agent in the Lake Norman region for Keller Williams Realty.
The solar farm, she said, would be a ?terrible detriment? to selling a home in a community such as Sailview. ?It?s always a red flag and will greatly affect values in Sailview,? she said.