The Midlothian City Council voted on two items regarding solar farms during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
The council unanimously approved verbiage regarding solar farms to be added to the city’s zoning ordinance. Immediately after, the board heard a request for the city’s first solar farm which was met with public opposition. The plan was ultimately denied 5-1 with Jimmie McClure the lone member to vote in favor.
The solar farm topic was back up for discussion after the council voted to table it during the March 26 meeting. At the time, it was determined that the council didn’t know enough about the topic to make an informed decision.
Now that it was brought back to the council, the members heard public comments and made a decision.
Councilmember Mike Rodgers was still concerned with some of the issues that surround solar farms and stated he wished he still had more time to research.
“We don’t know,” he said. “This is very concerning to me.”
Trenton Robertson, the City of Midlothian Planning and Zoning director, said city staff recommended the ordinance require proposed solar farms be allowed in light, medium and heavy industrial areas in town and require a specific use permit and council approval on any other case.
After more than an hour of discussion and questions, the council decided to strengthen its reach and require all proposed solar farms use a specific use permit which would require council approval.
The council was mostly concerned with how the city would regulate the industrial farms. Councilmember Art Pierard wanted to assure the farms were maintaining a majority of their equipment without letting them decay. His problem — along with a few other council members — was he didn’t want to rely on information given to them from the company itself.
“It’s still the wild west with this,” Rodgers added. “I don’t know how to regulate it to begin with.”
McClure said the city trusted other businesses to give them information and didn’t want to add more stipulations.
City attorney Joe Gorfida said most of the issue council was presented were specific and could be addressed on a case-by-case basis through the specific use permit.
The council did just that when it denied a proposed solar farm.
The solar farm would be located on about 386 acres of the B. Canfield Survey; an about 2,500 feet west of VV Jones Road and south of Forbes Road. That particular area is budding up against a small subdivision of homes.
This was Rodgers main concern during the previous meeting and Tuesday.
He said the area was more agricultural and though the application may be for a solar “farm” he thinks it would be better suited in an industrial area.
“I can’t imagine living in that,” he noted. “I don't think that's a good application.”
Rodgers sympathized with residents in the area and said if he lived there he wouldn’t want to look at the solar farm from his home.
“I’m not going to buy that piece of property,” he said. “There ain’t no way.”
Council members Justin Coffman agreed. He drove by the area last night and said it has beautiful rolling hills and would hate to see it littered with more than 200,000 solar panels.
“There was a beautiful sunset last night,” he added. “It’s a big open space that’s very farmable.”
Four residents of the area spoke against the farm’s construction because they didn’t know the economic impact on their land and they didn’t want to look at it from their homes.
“I just want you to know what’s coming. I’m hoping my effort pays off,” said
Cheryl Wood as she fought tears in front of the council. “I pray to god you put people first before money.”
When the council recorded its vote to deny the application, Wood and her neighbor grabbed hands and cried with joy.
Samantha Douty, @SamanthaDouty