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Rowan Planning Board settles on screening requirements for solar farms

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Planning Board during its first meeting of the year Monday discussed more changes to regulations on local solar energy systems.

The conversation about new and improved rules for approving solar energy systems has been ongoing since the Rowan County Board of Commissioners initially implemented a moratorium on large solar farms in October of 2019.

That temporary ban on new solar energy systems was set to expire in April of last year, but has since been extended twice in order to give the planning board more time to come up with suggested changes. The moratorium will expire on April 6.

At a meeting in October, the Planning Board discussed changing the classification methodology for solar energy systems. In the existing law, there are only two classifications: solar energy systems less than 6,000 square feet and greater than 6,000 square feet. Instead, the board discussed creating four classifications: small-scale, on-site, roof-mounted and utility-scale. Large solar farms fall under the utility-scale classification.

Rowan County Planning and Development Director Ed Muire led the discussion Monday. Muire guided board members as they got into the weeds about potential requirements for how utility-scale solar energy systems should be screened from neighboring structures.

The screening of solar energy systems would both provide protection and prevent neighbors from having to deal with glare or unpleasant aesthetics.

After a lengthy discussion, the board decided solar energy systems must install the following as screening in a situation where a utility-scale solar energy system is within 300 feet of an existing residence, church or school: 

  • A row of trees, with 40% being large-maturing trees that are at least 6 feet tall at the time of planting and not spaced more than six feet apart.
  • An opaque fence that is a minimum of 6 feet tall within the required buffer.

Muire said that he would like the Planning Board to discuss potential rule changes about the decommissioning of solar energy systems at a meeting in February.

The changes discussed during the meeting Monday night will be further scrutinized by the planning board, which will meet several more times before gathering feedback from citizens. The planning board will then present the proposed changes to commissioners for ultimate approval.

In other meeting business:

• The planning board also recognized three outgoing members (David Miller, Andrew Poston and Steve Poteat) and welcomed three new members (Karla Foster, Mike Julian and Adam Sewell). Pete Bogle and John Leatherman were once again elected to serve as chair and vice-chair for 2021.

• The planning board unanimously approved a request from Rowan Summit LLC to divide a 2.75-acre lot on its property at the corner of Julian Road and Summit Park Drive into two lots: a 2.09-acre lot and a 0.66-acre lot. The property is known as the Rowan Summit Shopping Center and is currently home to Dick’s Sporting Goods, Burlington Coat Factory and several other retail shops. The property plan was initially approved to consist of nine lots, but that could change. Rowan Summit LLC currently has plans for a Texas Roadhouse to be built on the 2.09-acre lot and would utilize the smaller lot for another use. The Planning Board will meet on Thursday to ratify the approved request. Then it will go to the Board of Commissioners for final approval.

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