Tuesday, February 7, 2023

James City County Board of Supervisors Votes to Approve Racefield Solar Farm

The James City Countty Board of Supervisors voted to approve a new solar farm on Racefield Drive. (Courtesy of Unsplash)

JAMES CITY COUNTY — The James City County (JCC) Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve a new solar farm on Racefield Drive during the Tuesday, March 8 meeting.

The Board also approved an Agricultural and Forestal District (AFD) withdrawal request of 26 acres on behalf of the owners of the property to allow for the submittal of the special use permit (SUP) for the solar farm.

Brendan Grajewski of Hexagon Energy, LLC, applied for a SUP for a three-megawatt (MW) solar farm located at 360 Racefield Dr.

The solar farm will be developed on 26 acres of the total 65.26 acres and would connect to the existing utility line using an on-site, pad-mounted switchgear, according to the project’s staff report.

The 26-acre solar farm site is currently used as active farmland and is mostly clear of mature vegetation and trees. The site will be accessed by the narrow and rural Racefield Drive.

At its Feb. 2 meeting, the JCC Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the SUP request, but recommended denial of the Barnes Swamp Withdrawal.

The withdrawal request was submitted about one year prior to the upcoming renewal of the Barnes Swamp AFD in October 2022.

JCC Commissioner Tim O’Connor told the Board Tuesday that staff found that the request for withdrawal does not fully meet all four of the criteria set forth in the Board’s policy.

However, staff felt that the solar farm project was in keeping with the Comprehensive Plan, as it is a way to use rural lands without developing it for residential lots.

“I think ultimately four of us agreed that this was a pretty good use of this land, especially the fact that solar farms have this 25-30 year life span,” O’Connor said. “So it’s not handcuffing that property forever and there would be an opportunity to return to agricultural uses.”

Grajewski told the Board that the project keeps to the rural land development standards and said that anticipated traffic impacts were determined to be “non-invasive and route-appropriate,” though he said that there are two more studies needed to be done to confirm this.

“I think it’s very low impact to the surrounding area,” Vice Chairman Sue Sadler said. “I’m happy to support the early withdrawal and support the project overall.”

In 5-0 votes, the Board approved both the solar farm and the withdrawal request.

Grajewski said that the first quarter of 2023 is the estimated time when construction would begin, with facility operations expected to occur in spring 2023.

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