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Landowners appeal solar farm vote

The owners of land near Lake Norman where a company wants to put 26,000 solar panels have appealed a vote by the Lincoln County commissioners that denied a permit for the project.

Calling the commissioners’ decision “arbitrary and capricious,” landowners Gary and Virginia Dellinger and Timothy Dellinger want a Lincoln County Superior Court judge to reverse the vote and grant a permit for Strata Solar’s 36-acre solar farm. Strata is the state’s largest solar company.

Commissioners voted 3-1 on Dec. 16 to reject the permit for the farm on Webbs Road and Burton Lane in eastern Lincoln County.

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

A crowd of about 200 opponents erupted in cheers at the James W. Warren Citizens Center after the commissioners’ vote.

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 the December 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 Dellingers could by right put something else there that residents might find even more objectionable.

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 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.

In their Jan. 17 appeal, the Dellingers say the acreage has historically been used as a farm. “The property is located in an area with mixed uses which include residential housing, a concrete plant and a portable restroom business,” their lawsuit adds.

The lawsuit contends that Strata Solar offered “substantial, significant, clear and convincing evidence that its plans met the requirements of the county’s Unified Development Ordinance.”

A hearing date will be set by the court. The family is represented by Hickory attorneys Forrest Ferrell and Jason White.

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