Council OKs Indian Trail solar facility permit

Published 3:56 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023

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City Council narrowly approved a conditional use permit for a solar energy facility located on the southern side of Indian Trail Wednesday.

After a second public hearing on the proposal May 17, Council approved the request on a 5-3 vote.

This follows a Feb. 15 public hearing on two solar facility ordinances where only one was approved. Council agreed to reconsider the second during its April 19 meeting. The city’s Planning Commission previously recommended approval for both ordinances on a 7-0 vote.

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During the public hearing, CVE North America Senior Business Developer Carson Weinend voiced his support for the project citing its benefits.

“There will be millions of kilowatt hours of clean energy that are generated back into the Dominion infrastructure,” Weinend said. “This is a significant amount of clean energy and it is a significant contribution to the state’s clean energy force.”

Weinend said there will be hundreds of thousands of tax dollars contributed to the city without any strain on city services such as traffic, school, police, etc. 

“This is a very lucrative, positive revenue driver for the city,” he said.

Likewise, Weinend said the project is not on a major roadway and would not produce noise or harmful chemicals.

Suffolk resident Chris Dove spoke in favor of the project calling it a seemingly “win-win.” However, local resident Wayne Boyce said he is opposed to the project, asking the council to vote “as if these homes were your homes.”

“In the past, the Johnson family sold some lots for houses off of his farm for families looking to live in the rural setting,” Boyce said.  “I don’t think these families would have bought these lots if they knew that one day that their house would be in the middle of a solar farm. But they did and here we are today.”

Justin West, who lives directly across the street from the planned site, voiced his opposition of the site.

“While I am not opposed to the thought of exploring solar as an alternative source of energy, I am opposed to this location,” West said.

West raised the common concerns that he found during his research, including safety, the ecosystem, property values and uncertainty.

Parcel owner Ed Johnson spoke in rebuttal, saying that it was “time to take out the fireman’s hose” to put out misperceptions of the project.

“I’ve been watching and reading the CARE4Suffolk website to know what they would be hitting me for,” Johnson said. “These people are so misconstrued, they can’t even look at the video clips from the last council meetings to know from fact from fiction.”

He reflected on showing the site to Planning Department Senior Planner Joshua Bateman, Planning Commission Chairman Arthur Singleton, Commissioner Mills Staylor and Councilman Timothy Johnson, noting that there was “no opposition” regarding the site.

Following Johnson thanking the Council for revisiting the ordinance, councilmen Roger Fawcett and Vice Mayor Lue Ward supported the ordinance, with the former speaking out in his support saying that he believes the solar farm is “perfect.”

“It’s a shame we didn’t do it when we first had it come up before us because it was a companion CUP and we didn’t get there,” Fawcett said. “But after more consideration and a little more thought process put to it, I can’t find it in my heart – in any way, shape or form – where this is going to be a place that I can’t.”

Fawcett said there’s no way he could turn this down. 

“Tonight, I am going to make a motion to approve this CUP,  regardless of what people think of me or anybody else,” he said. “I am pleased to have had the opportunity to bring the motion back to have this reheard on tonight from April 19.”

Despite the site being as “ideal a site” they could ask for, Councilman Timothy Johnson said he opposed the permit.

“I will not be supporting solar in the Holy Neck borough after this. I can’t vote in favor of it tonight, I already know that,” he said. “I agreed to bring it back because of the way it was conducted last time and I think it should come back and I think that’s due process.” 

He went on to say that they need to recognize what solar means and what it means to the people who live in this community. 

“So that’s what I hope we take home from this. I just have to stand true to my convictions,” he said. “Just recognize in the future when these things come forward, we really need to consider the whole community and the people who live in the rural areas in our cities, and what it means to them.”

The ordinance granting the conditional use permit passed 5-3, with Council Members Shelley Butler-Barlow and Leroy Bennett joining Johnson in casting the votes opposing it.