Oconee County commissioners in a 3-1 vote tonight (Tuesday) turned down a request for a 30 megawatt solar energy farm at the intersection of McNutt Creek Road and Dials Mill Road in the northwestern part of the county.
Commissioner Chuck Horton made the notion to deny the request for a special use of the 205 acres zoned agricultural for the solar farm, proposed by Rural Green Power LLC of Athens.
New Commissioner Mark Thomas provided the sole vote against the denial.
About 80 people turned out for the rezone hearing, the first conducted by new BOC Chair John Daniell.
|Thomas, Horton, Wilkes and Saxon|
Daniell set a tight 20-minute restriction on those arguing for and those arguing against the rezone, in contrast with predecessor Melvin Davis, who allowed opponents to overflow the 20-minute initial limitation but then also gave proponents extra time to argue their case.
Jon Williams of Williams and Associates, representing property owner Chick Farms Partnership LLC of Gainesville as well as Neville Anderson of Rural Green Power, used of most the 20-minute allotment for proponents.
Williams was joined by Dr. Neal Priest, an emergency room doctor at St. Mary’s Hospital, who lives at 1181 Tanglebrook Drive.
Priest was a strong proponent of solar energy, calling it safe and saying “this is one of the cleanest possible ways you could utilize and draw benefit from rural, agricultural land.”
Anderson lives at 1132 Tanglebrook Drive.
During his presentation, Williams told the Commission that the property on Dials Mill Road had been selected for the project because of its proximity to transmission lines already in the area.
Four people spoke against the rezone.
Harold Gene Aycock, 1340 Dials Plantation Dr., called the request “spot zoning” inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive land use plan.
Dominic LaBarbera. 1930 Dials Mill Road, also said the land use was inappropriate. “Anyway you slice this, it is industry,” he said. “It is simply in the wrong place in Oconee County.”
Chris Herron, 1121 Garnett Trail, said he was concerned about property values.
“I appreciate that we call it a solar farm,” he said. “But it is a power plant. And I appreciate that it may be the best kind of power plant. But it is still a power plant.”
Randy Jackson, 1050 Sunstone Drive in Belfair subdivision, focused his comments, shorted by Daniell, on the adverse impact of the project on Wildflower Meadows, a subdivision under construction that abuts much of the property proposed for the solar farm.
B.R. White, director of Planning and Code Enforcement, acknowledged that he had been asked by former Commission Chair Melvin Davis to draft changes to the county’s Unified Development Code to allow for solar farms in the county in response to the project proposed by Anderson.
“My instructions from the chairman at the time was to present amendments to the code to address solar powers,” White said. “And it was for this. But the code was not written specifically for this site.”
White was responding to a question from Commissioner Thomas, who asked: “Do you feel like that you were, in any kind of form or fashion, having this particular project in mind, or was this a generic UDC change.”
The meeting took place in Courtroom 1 rather than the Commission Chamber to accommodate the anticipated large crowd.
The Board of Commissioners had put off a decision on the rezone request at its meeting on Dec. 6 because of changes made to the plan at the last minute and to allow for Commissioners Horton and Thomas to join the Board at the start of the new year.
The video below is of the whole meeting, which was dominated by the zoning hearing and discussion.
Consideration of the rezone request starts at 4 minutes and 24 seconds into the video.