City declines solar appeal

By Mary Katherine Murphy

February 18, 2014

LAURINBURG — After a closed session during its monthly agenda meeting on Monday, the Laurinburg City Council voted to end its opposition to Strata Solar’s proposed solar array on Johns Road.

In April, council denied Strata Solar’s request for a conditional use permit to install an array on a swath of farmland behind the Balmoral subdivision, alongside U.S. 501, and within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. That decision was made following a quasi-judicial hearing pitting renewable energy experts representing Strata Solar against area residents concerned about a solar farm’s long-term effect on the local environment and property values.

Following an appeal by Strata Solar, a Superior Court judge overturned that decision.

The city was given 30 days — through the end of this week — to apply to the N.C. State Court of Appeals for reevaluation of the Superior Court decision. However, council decided against pursuing an appeal by a 3-2 vote, with council member Curtis Leak, who was the sole voice against denying the solar company a permit in April, as well as council members J.D. Willis and Dee Hammond voting for dropping the matter.

“The majority of council felt that they had been to court once and they had seen that through, but they didn’t want to dig a hole with attorney’s fees when they had been overruled once,” said Mayor Tommy Parker.

Council members Drew Williamson and Mary Jo Adams, who represent the district where the proposed solar farm will be placed, voted against Monday’s motion.

Were the council to appeal the Superior Court ruling, it would have done so on the grounds that the judge misinterpreted the laws defining a quasi-judicial hearing.

“The burden of proof as to why the solar farm shouldn’t get that permit falls on the shoulders of the citizens,” Parker said. “I guess it was the judge’s interpretation that they did not qualify for that threshold.”

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.