The Chapel Hill-based energy firm denied the right to build a solar farm off U.S. 501 by the Laurinburg City Council last week is considering an appeal, according to a company spokesman.
Strata Solar spokesman Blair Schooff said that as of Tuesday the company is currently “considering all of its options.”
Strata Solar had a request for a conditional use permit just outside of Laurinburg’s city limits rejected by the city council on April 16.
“Those options include an appeal (to the superior court),” said Schooff, vice president of marketing for Strata Solar.
Schooff said that Strata was unhappy with how the quasi-judicial hearing held to consider their conditional use permit request was conducted.
“We don’t feel that the city council did their job properly,” Schooff said.
In response to the news that the company was considering an appeal, Laurinburg Mayor Tommy Parker acknowledged that “an appeal is one of the options that they have the privilege to pursue.”
Asked if the city council’s denial of the solar farm development would affect how Strata Solar and other companies regard Laurinburg in the future, Schooff said that he “certainly would not disagree” with that assertion.
Councilman Kenton Spencer, whose motion to deny the conditional use permit was approved by a 4-1 vote, said that he thought the decision “absolutely will not” deter solar energy companies from future development in the county.
“No, it will not be (considered). We still have an ongoing project (with a solar energy company) that is going to tap into the actual grid of the city of Laurinburg,” Spencer pointed out, referring to a solar farm project that will provide power directly to the city.
“This was a classic case of King Solomon, where you are trying to find that balance between property owner rights and the common good,” Spencer said.
Spencer added that his decision was “based on the evidence presented (during the hearing and on) concerns that were raised by the community at large.”
Because the rules of the statute-governed hearing stipulated that only competent evidence from expert witnesses could be considered in the council’s decision making process, Spencer said that he only took into account certain testimony.
According to Spencer, “the only competent evidence that was there (in opposition to the solar farm) was Brenda Grubbs’.”
Grubbs, whose testimony was objected by Strata’s attorney, is a veteran real estate agent. She expressed concerns about how the solar farm may impact future property sales in the area.
Spencer said that “key evidence” included the testimony of the expert appraiser hired by Strata Solar.
“His report … didn’t substantiate that property values would not be affected. He didn’t offer enough evidence to support that.”
Based on the rules outlined by City Attorney William Floyd, the city council was required to find that an adverse outcome would be more likely than not to occur as a result of the solar farm’s installation.
If the decision is appealed, Floyd said that Strata Solar may argue that the city council considered Grubbs’ testimony in error while making its decision.
“That may be an issue they argue,” Floyd said.
“The hard nut to crack is the harmony issue,” Floyd added, referencing Spencer’s conclusion that the solar farm would not be in harmony with the surrounding community, as required by the conditions of the permit. “That is so subjective. It’s hard to get a judge to overturn on that harmony issue, it would seem to me.”