The Henry County Board of Supervisors struck down a motion to approve a siting agreement with Vesper Energy for the construction of a 435-acre solar farm in the Axton area.
Garrett Dillard, of the Iriswood District, made a motion to approve the agreement.
Ryan Zehr, of the Ridgeway District, seconded the motion that a majority of the board voted against.
Many of those in the majority 4 to 2 vote cited the county’s ordinance which states, in part, that no more than 2.5 percent of land within a five-mile radius can be used for solar energy.
Vesper’s proposed project, Axton Solar, would be 93 acres above the 2.5 percent limit.
Tommy Slaughter, of the Reed Creek District, was among those to oppose the agreement.
“Our ordinance says that 2.5 percent in a five-mile radius,” Slaughter said. “You either follow the ordinances or you don’t follow them.”
Slaughter said he is also concerned that allowing one project to not follow the ordinance would set a precedent for future projects to ask for an exception to the rules.
Had that been the case, “we’re going to just have to say, ‘yeah, we done it for them, and we’re going to have to do it for you,’” he said.
Joe Bryant, of the Collinsville District, said he voted against the motion for the same reason.
“The principle is if you give here, you’re going to have to give somebody else, and that’s just a problem. Pandora’s Box is opened and “once you open that box up, it’s like a virus and it spreads,” he said.
Debra Buchanan, of the Horsepasture District, said if the county has an ordinance in place, it’s there for a reason.
“We just can’t change that ordinance or deviate from that ordinance every time we decide we just want to,” she said. “If we have an ordinance in place, then we need to follow that ordinance unless we vote to change that ordinance. That siting agreement deviated from that with the additional acreage.”
Jim Adams, chairman and of the Blackberry District, said comments from his constituents influenced his decision to oppose the motion.
“A good number are concerned that there’s an explosion of this happening too quickly, and they think the process is moving too fast,” he said.
Adams said he expects that the board may revisit the issue and ensure the county has ordinances in place to protect against an explosion of growth.
Dillard and Zehr said they supported the project for a number of reasons.
“For the county, you get $1.25 million upfront,” Dillard said of the financial incentive. “There are some citizens that stood to benefit, and people buy land with the intent to invest, and this was an opportunity for an investment.”
Noting that there are occasions where the board scrambles to find funds for projects, Dillard said the project represented “an opportunity to have those extra funds coming in.”
Because of the location of the proposed project, part of the five-mile radius would extend into Pittsylvania County, resulting in a less than five-mile radius being included in Henry County.
“In essence, they’re already cut short with the amount of acreage that they could use,” Dillard said. “If it had been a full five-mile radius, then that 93 acres wouldn’t have even been an issue.”
Zehr said he believes the private landowners have the right to do what they want with their private land.
He noted the county negotiated a siting agreement with the company, “and we were aware that it could potentially go over 2.5 percent, which is above what the ordinance allows. We knew that when we finalized the siting agreement and presented it to them, so I think we did our due diligence and got the best of it we could.”
Noting that farming is the only other use for the land, Zehr said “if the landowner doesn’t want to farm, then give them some peace of mind so they can use the land as they’d like. If they want to throw up some solar farms, it’s up to the landowner.
“Who am I to say they can’t do that with their own land,” he asked rhetorically.
In other matters, the board:
*Approved its $196,623,925 budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The total is an increase of $6.7 million, or 3.5 percent when compared to the current spending plan.
The board also set its real estate tax rate at 0.55 cents per $100 of assessed value, and its machinery and tools tax at $1.55 per $100 assessed value.
The personal property tax was set at $1.55 per $100 assessed value including motor vehicles. The motor vehicle license fee will be a flat rate with $20.75 for cars and $12 for motorcycles and trailers.
The budget for Henry County Schools also was adopted with categorical expenses subject to available state, federal, and local funds.
*Approved the items of consent.
*Heard the monthly report on delinquent tax collection efforts from Treasurer Scott Grindstaff.
*Heard an update from Mark Heath, president, and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.
*Approved a proclamation naming May 14-May 20 as National Peace Officers Memorial Week in Henry County.
*Heard an update on general highway matters from Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Resident Engineer Lisa Price-Hughes.
*Approved the transfer of $1.074,000 in FY23 funds, and an appropriation of FY22 school carryover funds to purchase capital items.
*Approved an additional appropriation of $25,965 received from grant funds to pay for replacing ballistic vests in the Henry County Sheriff’s Office.
*Approved an additional appropriation of $16,067 in grant funds to be used for deputy overtime, workforce recruitment/retention, training and education of inmates and staff, and other purposes covered in the grant guidelines.
*Approved an additional appropriation of $37,000 from State Asset Forfeiture funds to pay for defensive tactics and fitness equipment.
*Awarded a $378,519 contract to Timmons Group for engineering and design services related to the reconstruction and upgrade of Reservoir Road.
*Approved the appropriation of $25,000 from the Harvest Foundation for the S.E.E.D. Beautification program.
*Approved a request to rezone approximately 2.7 acres in the Ridgeway District to Limited Industrial District (I-2) for the construction of four warehouse units.
* Approved a request to rezone a lot in the Horsepasture District to Mixed Residential District (M-R) to place a doublewide manufactured home on the property.
*Reappointed Donna Stone to the Southern Area Agency on Aging Board for a three-year term.
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