by Billy Ball
In left-leaning Orange County, one might expect a warm welcome for a proposed solar farm. It appears, however, that one might be wrong.
Orange County commissioners heard this week from multiple property owners near a proposed solar farm north of Chapel Hill who say they strongly oppose its construction, chiefly on the grounds that the green energy station would lower neighboring property values and spoil the view.
The farm, if built, would sit on two parcels totaling 50 acres off Mount Sinai Road near Cascade Drive. Roughly half of the land would be occupied by the solar farm.
The builders, Arizona-based Sunlight Partners LLC, are seeking a special-use permit to build the solar arrays, which will feed in to the public power grid. Chief to the debate will be one key requirement in order to grant a special-use permit, namely proving that the farm will not lower property values.
To that end, commissioners heard during Tuesday's public hearing from Rich Kirkland, a licensed appraiser who told officials that his review of similar facilities other North Carolina municipalities such as Zebulon showed no proven impact on property value.
Kirkland added that the location of the proposed Orange County solar farm near single-family residential homes is in keeping with the norm for other solar farms. The unmanned facilities require open space and nearby homeowners to use the energy , he said.
Nearby property owners were not convinced. Robert Cantwell, a Cascade Drive resident, said he supports solar energy, but believes the proposed solar farm would be "grossly out of character" with the neighborhood. Cantwell also suggested that the Arizona builders are too far removed from the area to care about the quality of life for neighbors.
Neighbors brought their own appraisers too Tuesday. Pam Davis, a longtime certified residential appraiser from Orange County, said she has performed thousands of appraisals in Chapel Hill.
Davis estimated a 10 percent drop in property value for a neighboring property owner if the solar farm is built. "It's more valuable in Chapel Hill than anywhere else to maintain a beautiful view," Davis said.
Expect this back and forth to continue. Orange County commissioners, as expected, took no action on the permit application Tuesday. It will now be referred to the county Planning Board, which is expected to make a recommendation in time for commissioners' Sept. 16 meeting.