Moratorium on solar development extended, but ordinance ‘languishes’ in legal review


To the Editor:

The Board of Supervisors extended the moratorium on industrial solar development at their May 16 meeting. They also directed the county’s part-time attorney to just check the ordinance (which has been in his office for almost a month) for zoning compliance and immediately return it to the Planning Commission for public hearing. Mr. Helm, the attorney, stated that he has not had time to review this essential ordinance; however, he has had time to work as a Warren County substitute judge. We need an attorney skilled in land use and zoning who is able to meet the needs of the county and its citizens.

Mr. Helm did not elaborate on the reasons for this delay, other than to state that he had numerous other fires to put out. Personally, I do not understand why the county staff did not contact him and ask for an update after a week or so. Or why Mr. Helm did not inform the staff of his challenges regarding timing. Why didn’t he ask what, specifically, the BOS needed him to do? All that was required was to check the code. What else was he expecting to do?

At that meeting, I praised the work of the Planning Commission, which chose to discard the proposed ordinance submitted by one BOS member, with no review by the other supervisors. They had regarded it as inadequate and asked one member of the Planning Commission to come up with something that worked to protect the county. That is the ordinance that they reviewed and discussed at two meetings, ultimately sending it to legal review on April 19, where it has languished.

For some reason, everyone was OK with the BOS sending an ordinance to the Planning Commission without complete BOS review (and written by one supervisor), but there was an issue with the PC agreeing that the ordinance development should be led by one member (using all of the previous ordinances provided as reference and content points) and then completely reviewed and modified by the full committee. Double standard anyone?

Sadly, the Planning Commission has only five members, although two from each district (a total of 10) can be appointed. The current commission does an amazing amount of hard work and would be less burdened if the supervisors appointed additional members. Right now, there is excellent representation of farmers and homeowners. What about individuals representing the interests of tourism, small business owners, and large employers in the county?

The meeting also addressed the school district’s funding requests. Sadly, no citizens showed up to support the district and speak on its behalf — as has been true throughout the budgeting process. The state is, it seems, providing a 5-percent, across-the-board pay increase for all teachers. That is not enough. Virginia currently ranks near the bottom in terms of teacher pay, and Page County is near the bottom of the state’s ranking in teacher pay.

This means that teachers in Page County can go almost anywhere else in the country and get better pay. We cannot expect to attract — let alone retain — highly qualified teachers if we don’t pay them the salaries they deserve.

Our teachers are too important to risk. Let the supervisors know that you support our educators and their request for a 7-percent pay increase.

Cathy Herbert ~ Luray, Va.

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  1. Oops. I made a mistake in this letter. The attorney was told to check for code compliance not zoning compliance.

  2. “This means that teachers in Page County can go almost anywhere else in the country and get better pay. We cannot expect to attract — let alone retain — highly qualified teachers if we don’t pay them the salaries they deserve.“
    There are other things about Page County that are more important to them than just pay. Do we want people coming here just for the pay?

    Also: So when do we break ground on the solar farm? How about you stop harassing Mr. Helm.

  3. Excellent summary of this week’s BOS meeting!

    Hopefully, Mr. Helm will find time (in his busy schedule) to review the ordinance as directed.

    I am thankful the BOS was made aware in time to extend the moratorium for now and I will remain hopeful that a good ordinance is put in place before more projects come.

    I recently watched a BOS meeting from another county – solar developers happily take advantage of counties that have no ordinance in place.

    Interestingly enough, during the consideration of the first 2 SUPs that lasted well over a year in 2018-2019, Urban Grid kept telling Page County that no ordinance was needed …. and now we know why.

    Page County already approved a project, with no ordinance in place and accepted conditions that were poorly written (bad legal advice?) – now that project will be almost twice the footprint as advertised – and Page County likely has no recourse – due to the mistakes made during the approval process. Let’s not allow that to happen again. A protective ordinance is needed to allow and promote responsible solar in appropriate sizes and locations and not allow massive industrial predatory solar projects that will destroy this beautiful county.

  4. Seems the county uses our tax dollars to pay Mr. Helm to work for Urban Greed. I have been following the meetings. Maybe messing up things is his plan for longtime job security – as you have to wonder what else could be his motives to recommend and allow decisions that are good for them and bad for us.

    • Personally, i wonder anout the possible elationship between some charged with protecting taxpayers and Urban Grid. We have seen several draft ordinances in which document data reveals authorship of either an Urban Grid employee or attorney. There have been inappropriate cisits by UG to supervisors homes. Several were reported. Were some visits not reported? Did UG only visit 2 supervisors? What happened? Why is solar often left off the agenda? Is it intentional to limit public comment? Accidental? Why aren’t zoom meetings available after the meetings? Why didn’t the county follow up to get youtube channel reinstated? We need transparency. We don’t have it.

        • The Racey Engineering Report for the approved solar factory in Stanley states that the project may well put wells as far as 9 miles away at risk. Industrial scale solar poses too many risks on the fragile karst topography of much of page county. And yes, i am against it. I am also against an attorney who is not doing work the county needs, and instead doing work for another county.

        • Steve W, Most of the people who have spoken up are actually for responsibly sited and sized solar projects. No one has suggested denial of projects for private use or farming operations, and even for community solar that could benefit Page County and the citizens that reside here.

          The fight is against industrial solar factories on prime farmland, massive projects that will impact the local economic drives in negative ways, and have minimal to zero benefits while having many potential long-term permanent risks and damages for Page County.

          Page County needs an ordinance, one that is written by and for the protection of Page County – not one written by and for the solar developer.

          Recently another county had a meeting with the same developers that ALREADY have an approved project here (and a 2nd project being considered that was already denied once). There was a question about a different county that has had massive stormwater and erosion problems due to a project. Urban Grids’ response was that the county that hosted the project did not have an ordinance in place and poorly written conditions – just as the first one was approved here.

          Industrial solar can be done on brownfields, parking lots, buildings, landfills, and many suitable places that ARE available and should be used for these projects.

          I don’t understand why anyone would disagree with protecting prime farmland.

          I don’t understand why anyone would be fine with their tax money paying a county attorney to regurgitate the wishes of the solar developer in the solar ordinance.

          These developers target small rural communities that are considered less educated and more gullible, counties that have few resources. These developers are predators.

          Page County can learn from other’s mistakes (as well as their own) and have an ordinance in place to lessen those problems BEFORE consideration of any more projects.

          Page County is very fortunate to have so many members of the community engaged in these matters and expose the questionable behavior and motives of some officials, and the taxpaid employees (such as this attorney).

          The people putting in the time and effort to be good stewards of Page County is for the preservation and protection of the whole county and its citizens.

          So thank you Cathy Herbet for helping shine the light on these issues that will have an impact on Page County for generations.

  5. Something to consider about certain people.
    Paranoid Personality Disorder
    “Paranoid personality disorder (PPD) is a mental health condition marked by a pattern of distrust and suspicion of others without adequate reason to be suspicious. People with PPD are always on guard, believing that others are constantly trying to demean, harm or threaten them.” Cleveland Clinic

  6. Well, Mr. Helm finally got the ordinance back to the county and it was reviewed by the Planning Commission last night. Mr. Helm had one issue with the wording of one paragraph from a legal standpoint, which, per Chairman Burner, is easily resolved. The earliest date the public hearing can be scheduled–due to required print notice–is June 28, just 3 days before the 100-day deadline, after which the ordinance would have died. If that had happened, the only ordinance under consideration would have been the weak ordinance that has been floating around, with minor revisions, for several years–with document authorship data showing it was written by individuals who work for or who legally represent Urban Grid. Mr. Helm’s delay could have meant that the wishes of the county residents (over the time that industrial solar has been on the table, more than 500 residents have commented against these project/for a strong ordinance, and only about 50–including the landowner and their families and the attorneys advocating for the project–have spoken in favor of it). These projects are dangerous for the county and residents fully understand the harm they can do when placed on fragile karst topography where they can damage wells at considerable distance.

  7. So when do we break ground, similar to what farming does, to build the humongous, dangerous, ugly, tourism murdering, lying, no good, swindling, shipyard sized industrial, solar garden, on “fragile” KARST (SCREAMING LIKE A MADMAN), that could damage water wells 9 miles away (or perhaps even 50 miles, depending on what the operations analysis man divined what the answer was supposed to be.

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