By Brandon Martin
The fate of the Beaver Hills Golf Course remains uncertain after the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously denied a special-use permit that would have used the land to harvest solar energy.
The permit for the property that is located on King’s Mountain Highway in the Collinsville District was sought by solar developer North Carolina Renewable Energy (NCRE). Under the limited liability corporation, “White Stripe Solar,” a 14-megawatt facility, would have been constructed on the land which spans about 120 acres.
The main reason given for denying the permit came from Zoning Ordinance 21-210, according to Lee Clark, director of planning and zoning for the county.
“Item #3 says that the establishment of the special use will not impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of the surrounding properties for uses permitted in the district,” Clark said. “If you put solar panels on that property, it will absolutely impede the normal and orderly development of that property and the surrounding property.”
Currently, there is erosion of nearby land from a stream run-off attributed to maintenance of the golf course. NCRE and partners submitted comments, to be read during the public hearing, that discussed how the solar farm would prevent erosion and add to the value of the land.
The first comment read was from Michael Crawley of Crawley Professional Engineers.
During a previous meeting with King’s Grant Retirement, the developers discussed the large-scale degradation caused by “golf operations” to land between the two properties.
“Excessive siltation of the stream has resulted in localized flooding in the area of the bridge crossing King’s Grant Development and the need for dredging of the stream to restore capacity,” Crawley said.
He added that excessive siltation had occurred because of “closely mowing the golf course grounds, allowing for higher run-off velocity for the stream. We suspect this higher velocity run-off allows sediment to be dislodged and transported to the stream. The solar site will incorporate best management practices to control run-off during and after construction.”
Some examples of these practices were “check-downs and other velocity-limiting devices” and “simply allowing a much taller strain of grass to grow under and between the arrays.”
Stabilized ground cover would have also been constructed “to maintain adequate protection of neighboring properties from run-off, erosion and off-site sedimentation.”
Andrew Palmer, a representative from current land-owner Beaver Hills Development Corporation (BHDC), said the promised improvements to the land were a big selling point for providing the special-use permit to the solar developers.
“NCRE is going to solve a water run-off issue that King’s Grant has been having a problem with for years on the property,” Palmer said. “Once the lease is up with NCRE, per the lease, the solar panels will be removed, and the land will be turned back to BHDC in its original state. Anything else done with the property, you would have large amounts of concrete or asphalt once the business leaves and is torn down. This does not happen when the solar approved (project) leaves. At that time, we could do something else with the land and who knows where we will be in 40 years.”
Clark said that tying up “prime land” for a 40-year period would not be in the best use for the county.
“Where I see that the county, not only has the right but the responsibility, is to look at this through a land-use perspective,” he said. “In my opinion, we have roughly 120 acres of property there. Its current zoning is commercial. It’s got hundreds of feet of frontage along King’s Mountain Road, which is easily the premiere road in this section of the county. It’s primed for development.”
After referencing a map of area utilities, Clark said he also found that the land is “surrounded by public sewer, public water, power.”
Clark disagreed that “covering that property with solar panels for the next 40 years would be the highest and best use of that property, where nothing can be developed on that property.”
NCRE said the county would benefit from the project by the solar farm providing “a diversified tax-base that creates a guaranteed income to the county, land-preservation over the course of the project’s lifetime and with minimal impact to county resources.”
According to NCRE, the solar farm would have connected to American Electric’s distribution grid in Martinsville. The current lease with Beaver Hills Golf Course is set to expire at the end of December, at which point White Stripe Solar would have taken full control of the site.
NCRE said that it would take approximately 43,000 modules and five central inverters and transformers to absorb the sunlight and then convert it from direct current to alternating current.
“This would power approximately 4,000 homes once the project is operational,” the developer said.
A solar farm could have other economic repercussions for the area, as well.
The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) recently compiled a fact sheet using data from the 2019 U.S. Energy Employment Report (USEER) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
A report from USEER found that in 2018, a total of 2,324,866 people worked in the United States energy efficiency sector.
“This represents an increase of more than 124,800 energy efficiency jobs since 2016, making it the energy sector with the highest job growth in the country (5.37 percent),” their website states.
States with the most jobs in energy efficiency are California (310,433), Texas (154,565), New York (117,339), Florida (112,620), Illinois (86,916), Massachusetts (84,556), Michigan (84,052), North Carolina (84,020), Ohio (79,653), and Virginia (76,621).
Joe Bryant, supervisor of the Collinsville District, submitted comments opposing construction of the solar farm.
“I feel that this proposed project will not produce any revenue for Henry County,” he said. “This project will also occupy up to 120 acres of residential and/or commercial property for approximately 40-60 years or more. I believe this property can be used for more profitable land usage which will bring more revenue into Henry County.”
Tommy Slaughter, of the Reed Creek District, in a voice message transcribed for the hearing, said “I have talked to people over the county and I get the impression that a lot of them feel the same way, or do feel the same way, that I feel about it.
“It’s a terrible use of the valuable property. I know George (Lester) has done a lot of good things for the county, but this is one of the worst things that I’ve seen him come up with,” Slaughter said.
According to Clark, Slaughter is also an adjoining property owner to the site.
In addition to the solar farm, NCRE planned to work with BHDC to reserve a “large buffer” on the eastern portion of the land to meet the ongoing “housing needs of the community.”
Overall, Clark said the county would benefit little from taxation of the solar farm.
“I’ve been told that under the current design, unless there are some special agreements, that the counties benefit very little from the solar farms because they don’t directly tax the solar panels,” Clark said. “This is already commercial property, so the taxes will change very little from the county’s standpoint.”
Clark said he thinks the land would be better suited for a mixed residential and commercial development.
“In a perfect world, I would be a developer who would look at this property and say this is a perfect piece of property for mixed-use development,” Clark said. “Everything from townhouses, to single-family dwellings, and back that up to the commercial property and potential office property right directly across from this (Summerlin) building, and the synergy between those is obvious. When you look at these types of developments in other areas, it’s perfectly suited for that.”
After some discussion with the landowners and NCRE, a proposal was drafted to allow for some townhouses to be built on the property along with the solar farm development.
“NCRE is willing to work with BHDC to build additional multi-family units along King’s Mountain Road,” Palmer said. “It’s something the county is in dire need” of.
“I appreciate them being willing to propose something like that, but from the county’s perspective, we’ve had to go outside of the area to find developers willing to do the types of projects that we are involved in right now,” Clark said. “That’s a shame. That we would have to go to developers outside of the area to see that potential the way we see it on some other properties.”
Opposition was expressed by patrons of the public golf course, according to Clark who presented 10 pages of signatures for a petition titled “Save Beaver Hills Golf.”
“Unfortunately, golf play has continued to decline in our area and across the U.S.A.,” Palmer said. “It is very clear that the current operator is not able to make it in the environment that we are in.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the golf course in January to signify new management under Michael Hendricks and William McLawhorn.
“It has nothing to do with the continual operation of the golf course,” Clark said. “Any kinds of agreements, leases or agreements of any sort that are between a lessor and a lessee, we (the county) don’t have any input in that.”
Henry County Board of Appeals members Manker Stone, Lynwood Turner, Paul Setliff and Sandra Adams voted against the special-use permit. Robert Clark was absent.