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Sumter Planning and Zoning Commission recommends approval of solar farm

By Ken Gustafson

 

AMERICUS — The Sumter County Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) met on Thursday to discuss whether or not to recommend the conditional use for the construction of a solar farm in an area near and around the communities of Cobb, DeSoto, and Leslie.

The area of land on which the solar farm is to be built has been divided into eight zones or “parcels.” Three parcels are located in Cobb, four in DeSoto, and one in Leslie. The board members voted on each of the eight parcels of land. Six of these parcels are owned by Ceres Farms, LLC and are located in Cobb and DeSoto. The other two parcels, owned by Providence Plantation Inc., are in DeSoto and Leslie.

However, before the vote was taken, Zoning and Permit Administrator Sundie Avery shared with the SCPZC that she received some additional items pertaining to the solar farm. “I have one letter from a property owner and actually, some information from board member Short (Rufus Short) that he would like to discuss with you,” Avery said. The first item that Avery presented was a letter from John and Becky Morris who own property in the Statham Lakefront Subdivision. Commission Chair Steve Broadhurst read the Morrises’ letter aloud. The letter basically stated the couple’s concern that the construction of a solar farm on two of the parcels of land to be voted on would impact their community in a negative way. In the letter, they expressed their opinion that driving into their subdivision through a “solar farm tunnel” would be a visual eyesore and would cause potential property buyers to not be interested in buying property in their subdivision.

After Broadhurst read the letter, he reminded the board members that they do have the option to increase the height of both the fence around the proposed solar farm and the height of the vegetative buffer, especially in regard to the two parcels mentioned in the Morrises’ letter.

Short expressed his concern to the SCPZC, sharing a report from Amanda Smith, an economist and agri-business instructor at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC). “She (Smith) did research a couple of years ago and actually, it was pertaining to ag land being shifted over to solar property,” Short said. “What she was looking at was the business revenue from farm operation.” Short said he didn’t think a lot of people understood the differences between tax revenue and business revenue. “Tax revenue is spent by the local government. Business revenue is spent in the local businesses,” Short said. “That’s just something I wanted to bring out. I don’t think a lot of people are looking at the differences between business revenue and tax revenue and the sizeable difference between the two.”

Once Short was finished, Broadhurst asked the commissioners if they had any additional comments. Being that there was nothing more to say, the SCPZC began the process of voting on each of the eight parcels. Broadhurst asked for a motion to approve or deny the request for a conditional use for the construction of a solar farm on parcel 2019-Z08-188. This parcel is currently owned by Ceres Farms, LLC and is located at 2565 Spring Creek Church Road in Cobb. Board member William Reid made the motion and was seconded by member David Baldwin. Board members Reid, Baldwin, and Kenny Phillips voted to approve the conditional use for the construction of the solar farm on this parcel and Board members Channon Thurmond, Gary Houston, and Short voted against it, resulting in a 3-3 tie. Broadhurst had the tiebreaking vote and to approve the request. As a result, Parcel 2019-Z08-188 was recommended by the SCPZC to be included as part of the proposed solar farm.

The SCPZC took the same vote for the other seven parcels. Each time, the result was the same. Board member Reid made the motion seconded by Baldwin with Reid, Phillips, and Baldwin voting in favor of the request to use each parcel for the construction of the solar farm, and Short, Thurmond, and Houston voted against. Each time. Broadhurst broke the tie by voting in favor of it.

Now that the SCPZC has made its recommendation, the issue will go before the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) for a final vote on whether or not the solar farm will be built. That vote will take place at a public hearing, at which citizens can voice their opinions. That public hearing will take place at 6 p.m. Oct. 8, just before the BOC’s monthly work session. The BOC can either vote on the issue that night, or table their decision until a later meeting.