Superior Court appeal filed for Shady Grove solar farm project

Evan Williams addresses the Yadkin County Board of Adjustments during a Sept. 14 hearing regarding a conditional use permit for a proposed solar farm on Shady Grove Church Road.

Applicants will challenge the denial of a conditional use permit to build a solar farm on Shady Grove Church Road in Yadkin County Superior Court. A writ of certiorari was filed on Nov. 6, the writ is a request for a lower court to deliver its record in a case so that the higher court may review it. A clerk at the Yadkin County Courthouse said it would likely be the first of next year before the hearing is scheduled.

After two public hearings on the matter, the Yadkin County Board of Adjustments denied the conditional use permit in a three to two vote last month.

The conditional use permit for the 22-megawatt 285-acre solar farm on parcels of land totaling around 370.5 acres was applied for by Two Hearted Solar, LLC, Mickey and Hilda Smitherman, Shady Grove Partners LLC, Evan and Tina Williams, Jackie and Betsy Williams, Ruth Matthews and Billy Miller.

At a Sept. 14 hearing multiple individuals representing various aspects of the proposed solar farm presented evidence on the design and details of the project, including detailed information on the safety of a solar farm and mitigation efforts to minimize the impact to neighboring properties. Neighbors opposed to the project spoke at a hearing on Oct. 12. Both public hearings were evidentiary hearings with those speaking for or against the project sworn in as in a court of law.

Court documents filed challenging the decision read in part, “The Applicant presented five highly credentialed experts and other witnesses who provided substantial testimony on all four standards in the form of engineering calculations, appraisals, scientific papers written by one of the experts, and detailed testimony and expert analysis about applicable provisions in the county’s comprehensive plan. Despite this testimony, the Board failed to find that any of the evidence was competent, material, or substantial…”

Testimony from Dr. Brian Fannon with the Yadkin Riverkeeper organization as well as Danielle Summerfield, a neighbor to the property and former realtor were among those cited in the decision against the project. Runoff water, real estate values and lack of clarity with the submitted proposal were among the concerns the board said contributed to the denial of the conditional use permit.

A statement from the Board of Adjustments following the denial said in part, “there are potential multiple runoff issues and there needs to be more detail in the plans moving into these areas that have a lot more terrain variability to make sure that projects that take up several hundred acres in rolling terrain move forward responsibly to avoid damaging water that we rely on.”

The writ filed by the solar farm applicants, alleges that testimony from opponents of the project did not meet the criteria of evidence per the guidelines of the hearing.

“Opponents produced no expert testimony, no studies, and no evidence that directly addressed three of the four standards. The Board based its findings on opponents’ testimony that was in all respects, (a) immaterial, addressing matters unrelated to the four standards; (b) incompetent as a matter of law (a lay witness testifying about property values); (c) opinion testimony unsupported by facts or studies; (d) a type of testimony described in numerous N.C. cases as ‘generalized fears’ and therefore not evidence; or (e) testimony that was directly contradicted by county’s zoning ordinance and Land Use Plan,” reads a portion of the court documents challenging the denial.

Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.