Thursday, January 20, 2022

Strata Solar farm at Hill Pleasant Farm secures recommendation of county Planning Commission

Courtesy of SunPower
(WYDaily/File photo)

A 20-megawatt solar facility at Hill Pleasant Farm in James City County has secured a recommendation for approval from the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission considered two issues connected with the solar farm, which would be located at 7150 Richmond Road. One, a request to withdraw a 192.76-acre portion of the property from an agricultural and forestal district, where property owners agree not to develop their land. Two, a request for a special use permit to allow construction of the solar facility.

The Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of both applications. 

Commissioners Tim O’Connor and Frank Polster voted against removing the parcel from the AFD, and O’Connor voted against the special use permit.

All other commissioners voted in favor. Six members of the commission were present Wednesday.

Strata Solar has proposed a 20-megawatt solar farm for Hill Pleasant Farm, which would be nestled between Rochambeau Drive and Route 60. The project would include solar farm panels and possibly a battery storage facility, but would not need a substation because it can tap into the existing electrical infrastructure.

In a presentation, an attorney for Strata Solar said the Hunt family stopped farming the property 10 years ago and has unsuccessfully searched for a land buyer during that time.

“A solar farm is a good holding use,” attorney Greg Davis, of Kaufman and Canoles, said. “Like farming, but cleaner.”

Besides the applicant’s attorney, there were no speakers during the public hearing.

Staff gave mixed signals on the project, recommending denial of one item and approval of the other.

In a report, James City County planning staff suggested the Planning Commission recommend denial of the application to remove the property from the AFD because the county’s policy for removing properties from the district encourages the properties be used for public use.

One commissioner questioned whether generating electricity for public use in James City County could be considered a “public use.”

The applicant’s attorney suggested the solar facility would not be shipped off to other states, but used locally.

“… staff finds that this does not fulfill the requirement of Criteria B. Staff interprets “public purpose” as using the land for a public facility such as a school or fire station,” the report reads.

On the other hand, staff recommended approval of the application for a special use permit to build the solar farm.

The Board of Supervisors is tentatively scheduled to hear the application at 5 p.m. Nov. 12.

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Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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