11/16/2018 4:02:00 PM
|John Walker, Shelbyville NewsThe audience packed seats on the main level and in the balcony of the Strand Theatre on Tuesday evening to hear if a solar farm in northeastern Shelby County would be approved.Opponents were not disappointed.
Following a more than 3-hour meeting of the Shelby County Board of Zoning Appeals, the board denied a petition by Ranger Power of New York, and its local subsidiary, Speedway Solar, for a special use variance to allow the solar farm to be placed on 1,200 acres of cropland.
Nearly two dozen people came to the podium set up in the Strand Theatre, 215 S. Harrison St., to speak for and against the request.
Many of the concerns centered around possible harm to the property values of residents near the proposed site which is less than six miles northeast of the Shelbyville city limits.
The acreage, which the solar company wants to lease from local owners, is bordered by County Road 750 to the north; CR 500 to the south; CR 775 to the east; and just beyond CR 575 to the west.
Ralf Edwards noted that his property on County Road 700 North is the highest point in Shelby County.
“I can see all the way to Gwynneville,” he said.
His house is his nest egg and its value will be ruined, Edwards said, if surrounded by fields of solar panels.
Tony Stanich, who lives on County Road 500 North, said there would be 660,000 panels and more than a mile of pylons driven into the farm ground to support them.
He spoke against the “audacity” of the plan.
“There are some concerns you can’t put a number on,” Stanich said.
However, Deanna Holder, one of the landowners Speedway Solar is working with, said the land the company wants to use will remain agricultural ground.
“I’m not selling farmland, I’m leasing it,” she said.
The purpose of the county BZA meeting was to hear the solar company’s petition for a special use variance to allow installing the solar arrays on land that is zoned for farming. The zoning itself would not change.
Ranger Power / Speedway Solar representatives have said that the life expectancy of the solar farm would be about 40 years.
After that time, the solar farm would be decommissioned, according to the company representatives, and the panels and pylons removed so the land could be farmed again.
However, the company hasn’t put that in writing.
“As of now, there is no decommissioning plan,” said county BZA member Ann Sipes, who chaired the meeting.
BZA member Kevin Carson asked if the facility might continue operation beyond that 40-year timeframe, and a power company representative said it was possible.
Other conditions discussed regarding the solar company’s request for a special use variance included drainage of the site, and minimum landscaping and setback standards to ease the impact on neighboring properties.
Also, a detailed construction plan must be provided before building can begin, said Sam Booth, director of the Shelby County Plan Commission, who also advises the county BZA.
When the vote was taken, board members Doug Warnecke and Rachael Ackley voted in favor; members Jim Douglas, along with Carson and Sipes, voted to deny.
Following the vote, Peter Endres, project manager for Ranger Power, said the company will assess the BZA decision before determining what to do.
“We will evaluate the next step and make a decision. We don’t know what the next step is,” Endres said.
The company is allowed to refile its petition for a special use variance with the BZA.
“We appreciate the feedback we received from the Board of Zoning Appeals during last night’s board meeting. We have many supporters who have encouraged us to continue our effort to make this project a reality,” said Endres in an email sent to The Shelbyville News Wednesday morning. “We still believe, as they do, that this once-in-a-generation project will have a positive impact on Shelby County.”