NASHVILLE â Nash County commissioners on Monday gave favorable treatment to two solar farm requests near Spring Hope, but twice rebuffed a developerâs efforts to increase the density of rural residential subdivisions.
Land use requests and related public hearings dominated Mondayâs regular June meeting of the county board, livestreamed to the public. Two requests involved solar farms, which were approved without objection, and two others involved rezoning requests that hit stiff walls of commissionersâ and community objections.
The first solar farm request was a request to extend a conditional use permit for a 46.8-megawatt East Nash PV1 solar farm on North Old Franklin Road on the northeast side of Spring Hope, first approved Feb. 3, to include an additional 33.6 acres to include more solar array panels.
Fresh Air Energy XXIII LLC petitioned for the expansion on behalf of the property owner, the Bass family. The parcel, identified as East Nash PV3, is on a portion of a larger 79-acre tract on Bass Road immediately adjacent to the originally approved solar farm.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to amend the conditional use permit to include the additional land.
Commissioners also gave easy approval to a request for another six-month extension of a conditional use permit for Spring Hope Solar 2, one of two solar farms located together on Frazier Road near Spring Hope.
The county originally approved three solar farms on both sides of Frazier Road in 2015. One of the farms was later abandoned, but the other two solar farms have since received seven successive six-month extensions while the companies have worked on the project with Duke Energy Progress.
The current permit was set to expire on July 5, but the company representatives told commissioners the projects were still active and moving forward. The extension had no public opposition.
The opposite was true when Nash County developer Cecil Williams brought two rezoning requests before the board intended to allow him to develop his subdivisions with smaller lot sizes.
Williams has previously generated heated controversy in the rural Green Pond community northeast of Bailey, particularly last December when he attempted to rezone 163 acres to an RA-30 residential zone so he could build a massive subdivision with lots as small as 20,000 square feet using the âclusteringâ design.
Clustering allows developers to design lots one zone requirement smaller than the required lot sizes if they set aside as common space land equal to the amount saved by the shrinkage and if the total number of lots is no greater than the number originally permitted at the larger size.
This allows a developer to create subdivision designs around unusable spaces such as ponds, wetlands or bad soil, but the practice has also encouraged developers to use clustering simply to build more houses in less space.
The board last year also rejected a request by Williams to rezone a 24-acre tract to RA-20, which would have allowed him to develop 10,000 square-foot lots. Instead, the tract was zoned RA-30, which allowed Williams to create lots as small as 20,000 square feet.
He developed the first phases of Williams Ridge Subdivision on Stony Hill Church Road, which now includes 16 new residential lots along the road and one 3.3-acre common area.
The county later changed its zoning ordinance to prohibit clustering into lots less than 20,000 square feet, which means the smallest zone that allows clustering is now R-30 or RA-30.
In Mondayâs request, Williams asked the county to rezone three parcels of land in the same area that total about 81 acres from R-40 and RA-30 to RA-20.
One of the parcels, 12 acres, is in the undeveloped portion of the existing subdivision and zoned RA-30. An 11-acre plat and a 58-acre plat are currently zoned R-40.
Rezoning the RA-30 plat would allow Williams to continue developing 20,000 square-foot lots without having to set aside any more land for the common area. Similarly, the rezoning of the other parcels would allow Williams to build houses on 20,000 square-foot lots without clustering.
Williams told commissioners he was building houses in the $250,000 range or more, arguing that his total project would enhance the countyâs tax base by as much as $50 million.
Showing pictures of houses under construction, he said, âWe intend on being good stewards of the land and developing it to highest and best use.â
He said he wanted to use smaller lots because larger ones have âmore yard than the customers weâve targeted want to have.â And he said the clustering option now would require him to set aside more land than feasible, as well as cut down on the number of homes he could build.
The planning board approved the rezoning request, but county planning director Adam Tyson said the technical review committee recommended denial of the request because of the countyâs previous denials.
A succession of neighboring property owners told commissioners they opposed the rezoning and the smaller lots â and higher density â it would create. They argued, as they did before, that creating such a large subdivision would be like creating a small town in the countrywide, ruining its rural appeal and creating the possibility of more traffic congestion and crime.
Commissioners, likewise, were cool to the smaller subdivision lots. Frequently showing an aversion to âclusteringâ in previous cases, the board raised the possibility later of allowing the land to be rezoned to RA-30 without clustering, but unanimously denied the current rezoning request.
Williamsâ second rezoning request stirred even more opposition.
Williams and partner Fairfield Realty Down East sought to rezone 66 undeveloped acres on both sides of Jordan Road between the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport to the west and the town of Sharpsburg to the east from a combination of R-20 and R-20 conditional use to R-10 high-density residential.
The county planning board in February approved an expansion of the Worthington Farm Subdivision, including 17 proposed new 20,000 square-foot lots, with the town of Sharpsburg providing municipal sewer service.
Williams said he still plans to develop this subdivision, but the rezoning would give him the option of redesigning it with smaller lot sizes. The R-10 zone would also allow the possibility of building townhouses, duplexes, manufactured home parks and apartments, among other high-density uses.
âI thought it would be a welcome deal to see nice homes living near the town of Sharpsburg and nice people living there, a positive influence on the community,â Williams said. He said the project would expand the countyâs tax base by about $24 million.
But a longer procession of opposing property owners, in person and through emails, expressed strong opposition.
âI donât like the R-20, but the R-10 is totally ridiculous,â said John Shepherd of Jordan Road. âNobody would want that. Iâm all for the tax base, but donât screw the people already there for the taxes.â
The property owners had the support of the county technical staff and the planning board, which both recommended denial of the rezoning as against the public interest.
Commissioners likewise shot down the proposal without much debate.
âI was not a supporter and Iâm still not a supporter of rezoning this land,â said Commissioner Wayne Outlaw.
The board voted unanimously to deny the rezoning and its rationale.