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Lincoln County nixes 36-acre Lake Norman solar farm

LINCOLNTON Lincoln County commissioners on Monday night voted against a proposed 36-acre solar farm on Webbs Road at Lake Norman.

“My opinion is it will not be in harmony because it abuts right up to Sailview,” commissioners Chairman Alex Patton said of the higher-end subdivision whose residents would have seen the farm’s 26,000 solar panels from their second floors.

A crowd of about 200 opponents erupted in cheers at the James W. Warren Citizens Center after commissioners voted 3-1 to deny a permit for Strata Solar, the state’s largest solar company, to build the farm at Webbs Road and Burton Lane.

Patton and commissioners James Klein and Carl Robinson Jr. voted against the permit. Commissioner Cecelia Martin voted in favor of the permit, saying the farm wouldn’t hurt property values.

Commissioner Carrol Mitchem abstained from voting after residents filed a formal motion requesting he recuse himself. Residents said they saw Mitchem speaking at length with Strata Solar officials at a downtown Lincolnton restaurant after a September public hearing on the company’s permit request.

The motion also said Strata Solar had previously considered developing a solar farm on land Mitchem owned on N.C. 27 in western Lincoln County.

Mitchem lashed out at the crowd after Monday night’s vote, telling them in a raised voice that they forced a negative vote when the alternative to what could go on the property “could be 10 times worse.” Mitchem was implying that the Dellinger family who owns the Webbs Road property could by right put something else there that residents might find even more objectionable.

Residents contended that a solar farm was a bad fit in a primarily residential area with about 800 homes.

The commissioners’ vote came a week after the Lincoln County Planning Board recommended against the project by voting 4-4 on whether commissioners should grant the permit. A tie vote equals a “no” vote.

The Planning Board on Dec. 9 unanimously concluded that the project wouldn’t endanger public safety or health. But while the board also found the project would be in harmony with the area, members split 4-4 on whether the project would substantially injure the value of neighboring properties.

The Planning Board concluded that solar farms are so new to zoning that the board lacked information on whether such projects hurt values.

Two Lake Norman area real estate agents said at a Dec. 2 public hearing that drew several hundred concerned residents that it would be impossible to sell homes in Sailview and elsewhere nearby.

A resident said a potential buyer of a nearby $225,000 home she owns pulled out of the deal after seeing a sign for a hearing on the solar farm.

After Monday night’s vote, Charlotte lawyer Bob Burchette, who helped represent Strata Solar, said the company has successfully developed more than 50 solar farms across the state.

“They don’t hurt values,” Burchette told the Observer. “They don’t produce emissions.”

Opponents in the crowd held signs saying “Property Values” and “Don’t Gamble Our Tax $$$$.”

“These things are so new, and the risk to the homeowner is huge,” opponent George Arena, a former Lincoln County commissioner who lives in Sailview, said after the vote.

Marusak: 704-358-5067; Twitter: @jmarusak
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