By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Nov. 4 — As the Page County Board of Supervisors reached the end of its scheduled agenda Wednesday evening, District 5 supervisor Jeff Vaughan submitted two motions that seemingly acknowledge that the county’s moratorium on solar farm applications was not adhered to and a second application on behalf of the Cape Solar project should not have been accepted last December.
“We accepted a document that we did under improper guidance, or whatever…,” District 1 supervisor Keith Guzy stated prior to abstaining from two votes on the issue. “…at this point we’re doing the right thing to fix it and doing it right, but it’s not what we told the citizens.”
Just as chairman Morgan Phenix was preparing to entertain a motion to either adjourn or return to an earlier closed session held prior to the regular meeting, Vaughan quickly put the following motion before the board:
“I make a motion that the moratorium placed on all commercial and industrial renewable energy applications, which was placed into effect Oct. 15, 2019, pending the adoption of an ordinance, be lifted effective Sept. 21, 2021.”
The new Cape Solar proposal was brought before the Page County Planning Commission at its Oct. 12 meeting. Under county code, the planning commission has 180 days to hold a public hearing and render a recommendation to the board of supervisors. The issue was initially removed (by a vote) from the Oct. 12 agenda and placed on the commission’s Oct. 26 agenda. Reports were presented by county staff and an attorney representing Urban Grid at that meeting prior to a vote to again table the issue to the commission’s Nov. 9 meeting.
Although the Cape Solar application was filed on Dec. 11, 2020, the applicant waived the 180-day time limit in a letter to the county dated March 4, 2021. Then on Sept. 27, the applicant requested that the application be placed on the Oct. 12 agenda. The county is using that date — Oct. 12, 2021 — as the starting point for the 180 days, which means a recommendation must be forwarded to the board of supervisors by April 10, 2022. The supervisors then have one year from that point to hold their own public hearing and take a vote.
Vaughan’s first motion passed, 5-0. District 4 supervisor Larry Foltz has been out due to health reasons for several weeks, and Guzy abstained. Then Vaughan presented a second motion to the board:
“I make a motion to move…to waive the requirements that the project be reviewed for substantial accordance with the comprehensive plan.”
Vaughan’s second motion also passed by a 5-0 vote, with Guzy abstaining. Both motions seem to go in tandem and wipe away any complications or legal concerns the county may have had after accepting the Cape Solar application while the moratorium was effectively still in place. The moratorium previously blocked any new applications until the county adopted a solar ordinance. Despite two years of efforts by the planning commission and an outside consultant, the board of supervisors could still not agree on a soiar ordinance for Page County. After turning down the 559-acre project two years ago, a second application for Cape Solar was submitted in December 2020, and it was reviewed by the planning commission in October.
Guzy noted that the board “hasn’t moved on” a new solar ordinance, but stated that the supervisors “planned to go down that road, which we are….” Subcommittee meetings among supervisors went nowhere after the board voted down the planning commission’s recommended ordinance that, among other things, limited solar farms to 200 acres. The Cape Solar proposal would nearly triple that limit.
District 3 supervisor Mark Stroupe, who has been a proponent of the solar farm projects in the county, seconded both of Vaughan’s motions. Most in the room, besides the chairman, seemed to expect the motions even though they were not listed on the published agenda. There was little discussion outside of Guzy’s comments to justify his abstentions.
Vaughan’s second motion dealing with compliance to the comprehensive plan is somewhat of a moot issue. While it addresses language contained in the moratorium — the whole purpose of the two motions the board adopted — both the planning commission and the supervisors will still be considering compliance with the comprehensive plan as an element of the application review process over the next 18 months.
In other actions taken during the Nov. 3 work session, the Page County Board of Supervisors:
• Held two public hearings that drew no speakers and approved two motions on behalf of themselves — the “Board of Supervisors, Page County Virginia” — requesting a special use permit to construct a 100-foot monopole
tower with antennas on 1.783 acres zoned Woodland-Conservation (W-C) along State Route 682 (Tanners Ridge Road) near Stanley. The property is improved with numerous existing towers and an existing equipment shelter. The tower is part of the county’s new radio system upgrade for emergency services. The Page County Planning Commission held public hearings on Oct. 12 and unanimously recommended approval. While one hearing and motion dealt with the special use permit for this specific tower on Tanner’s Ridge, the initial hearing and motion dealt with “whether or not the special use permit for the telecommunications tower is in substantial accord with the comprehensive plan.”
• Unanimously adopted an ordinance to add Chapter 133 (Social Services) to the Page County, Virginia code. The new ordinance, in effect, names the county administrator as the overseer of social services provided in the county, with requirements to meet quarterly with the social services director and provide annual reports to the board of supervisors. Officially, the act disbands the Page County Social Services Board and creates the Page County Department of Social Services and the Page County Social Services Advisory Board. Supervisors deemed the restructuring to be necessary after issues with the previous social services board that were never detailed in open session.
• Unanimously voted to hold a public hearing at its Dec. 7 work session on an application by Gray Media Inc. (WHSV-TV3) for a special use permit to replace an aging guyed wire tower with a 125-foot, self-standing structure (with a 21-foot antenna and 7-foot, 6-inch lightning rod attached to top of the tower) located on State Route 685 (Big Mountain Road) near Shenandoah. The property is zoned as Parks-Recreation and has been improved with numerous existing towers and an equipment shelter. The Page County Planning Commission held a public hearings on Oct. 26 and unanimously recommended approval.
• Unanimously approved a resolution approving the county’s participation in the proposed settlement of opioid-related claims against McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and Janssen Pharmaceuticals. The resolution directs the county attorney to execute the necessary documents to participate in the $26 billion nationwide settlement. Michael Helms, the Page County board’s legal counsel, stated Wednesday night that the local share of the settlement may reach into “six figures” and potentially be distributed early next year with almost no restrictions on what it can be spent for. However, several supervisors stated that the funds should be used to fight drug addiction, help with treatment or counseling, and reduce the number of repeat offenders rotating through the local jail.