LAURINBURG — Despite objections from adjacent landowners, the Laurinburg City Council on Tuesday approved a conditional use permit to put another solar array in the city.
Strata Solar Development will place the ground mounted solar array on nearly 90 acres of land near the U.S. 15 – 401/501 bypass in Laurinburg on land owned by Ann Halpin, who recently inherited the property that has been in her family for more than 200 years.
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it would be good for Laurinburg and good for the farm,” Halpin said.
Neighbors Mike and Kim Dennison disagreed.
“Don’t tell me I won’t see this thing because I will. Every time I get up I’ll be looking at that solar farm,” Mike Dennison said.
Another neighbor, Molly Flowers said the solar farm would be an “eyesore”.
“These solar panels are unsightly,” Flowers said. “Why in the world would anyone allow a solar farm to be placed within the one-mile jurisdiction, along the major highway, throughout our city while I cannot place a well-maintained mobile home on my property, if I wanted to? I believe in the freedom of doing what you want with your land, but when it affects your neighbors and their property values, it’s time for someone to step forward.”
But attorney Bill Purcell, who represents Strata Solar, objected to her comments about property values because, he said, Flowers was not an expert witness.
Because the hearing was quasi-judicial, anyone who wished to speak about the topic had to be sworn in as a witness. The only witnesses whose testimony could be considered were either experts, such as a property appraiser who testified, the design engineer, or residents who were directly affected by the solar farm.
Hearing the neighbor’s complaints, Jim Haley, an engineer for Strata Solar, offered to expand the buffer area to encircle the entire solar farm, which the council accepted when it approved the request to grant the permit. Haley said the solar array will not cause extra traffic because it will require about 24 visits a year to maintain. He said it will look similar to the solar farm near Scotland High School.
Tom Hester, a Raleigh-based real estate appraiser, said solar farms do not adversely effect property values. In this case, he said it will be well-screened and set back from the neighbors, but will not have any negative effect in the neighborhood.
Council member Mary Jo Adams asked if there was any reason to worry about water contamination and Haley said there was nothing to worry about.
The city council granted the permit in a 4 to 1 vote with Council member J.D. Willis opposed.
“I am very passionate when it comes to residents having to look at solar farms,” Willis said. “I am not against solar farms as long as the residents don’t have to sit out there on their patios and look at them.”
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-506-3169.