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SEPTEMBER 16, 2013
AGENDA
Catawba County Board of Commissioners Meeting
Monday, September 16, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Robert E. Hibbitts Meeting Room, 1924 Courthouse
30 North College Ave, Newton

1. Call to Order.

2. Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

3. Invocation.

4. Approval of the minutes from the Board’s Regular Meeting of September 3, 2013.

5. Recognition of Special Guests.

6. Public Comments for Items Not on the Agenda.

7. Presentations:


Certificates of Commendation to Flood Assistance Partnership Members.
1. Catawba Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross. Presented to Charles Avery and Suzan Anderson.
2. North Carolina Baptist Men. Presented to Tommy Styers.
3. Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry. Presented to Bob Silber.
4. Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry. Presented to Barbara Rush.
5. Christ Church. Presented to Kelly Hyatt.
6. United Methodist Committee on Relief. Presented to Dwaine Morgan.
7. Catawba County United Way. Presented to Cheryl Abee.
8. New Life Christian Church. Presented to Scott Bell.
9. Samaritan’s Purse. Presented to Brent Graybeal and Dan Soucek.

8. Public Hearings:


a. Proposed Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Amendments – Article VI- Division 4, Wireless Facilities. Presented by Planning Director Jacky Eubanks.


b. Proposed Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Amendments – Solar Farm (Utility-Scale Solar Application). Presented by Planner Chris Timberlake.

9. Appointments.

10. Consent Agenda:


a. Sole Source Exception – Purchase of In-Car Camera System for Road Patrol.


b. Pyrotechnics Permit for Greater Hickory Classic Foundation.

11. Departmental Reports


A. Economic Development Corporation.


Demolition Fee Waiver Guideline Modification. Presented by Economic Development Corporation President Scott Millar.


12. Other Items of Business.

13. Attorneys’ Report.

14. Manager’s Report.

15. Adjournment.

PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES: Individuals needing assistance should contact the County Clerk at 828-465-8990 within a reasonable time prior to the meeting. . Access to the 1924 Courthouse for individuals with disabilities is at the south side (“A” Street). The elevator is located at the north end of the building. Participation in public meetings is without regard to race, creed, religion, national origin, sex, age, color, or disability.


INFOTALK/INTERNET: The Catawba County Telephone Information System will allow you to use your touch tone telephone to obtain current information on Catawba County 24 hours a day. Information is updated on a regular basis. Dial 465-8468 and INFOTALK will direct your questions with easy to understand instructions. Reach Catawba County on the Internet at http://www.catawbacountync.gov.

CALENDAR: The October 2013 Board of Commissioners Meetings will take place on Monday, October 7, 2013 at 9:30 and on Monday, October 21 at 7:00 p.m. in the Robert E. Hibbitts Meeting Room, 1924 Courthouse, Newton.

PREVIEW OF COUNTY COMMISSION AGENDA
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2013, 7 P.M.
ROBERT E. HIBBITTS MEETING ROOM
1924 COURTHOUSE, NEWTON, N.C.

The Catawba County Board of Commissioners will hold two public hearings on 1) a proposed amendment to the Catawba County Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Division 4, Wireless Facilities; and 2) a proposed amendment to the UDO regarding solar farms to include a definition, inclusion in the UDO Use Matrix and the addition of specific standards, when the Board meets at 7 p.m. on Monday, September 16, 2013, at the 1924 Courthouse at 30 North College Avenue in Newton. The Board will also consider a request from the Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors for flexibility when considering applications for the Demolition Fee Waiver Program, and the addition of a requirement that any project benefitting from the Fee Waiver program post Innovate Catawba Reinventing Spaces signage on the project site.


The Board will consider an application from the Greater Hickory Classic Foundation for a Pyrotechnic Permit for a fireworks display to be conducted on September 22, 2013, at 3763 Golf Drive in Conover; whether to authorize the sole source exemption for the purchase by the Sheriff’s Office of 18 in-car camera systems from L3 Communications, the sole maker of this product, in the amount of $89,997; and will recognize the members of a Flood Assistance Partnership that organized to help meet the needs of those affected by the July 27, 2013, flooding across Catawba County.


PRESENTATIONS
The Board will recognize the voluntary and faith-based members of a Flood Assistance Partnership, formed to address individual family needs following the extensive flooding that has affected Catawba County and other parts of the area since July 27, 2013. The Partnership agencies include the American Red Cross, Christ Church, Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry, North Carolina Baptist Men, New Life Christian Church, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Catawba County United Way and Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry.

PUBLIC HEARINGS
A. The Board will hold a public hearing to receive citizen input and consider amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), Wireless Facilities, to comply with revisions to the North Carolina General Statutes. In addition to mandated State revisions, the Board will also consider the elimination of the current UDO requirement for a balloon test and other minor revisions to make this highly technical section of the UDO more user friendly.

Catawba County adopted a local Wireless Communications Ordinance in 1996. The first major revisions to the ordinance occurred on July 1, 2003, at which time significant changes were made. The ordinance was again reviewed and amended when the UDO was adopted on February 5, 2007. These amendments included new North Carolina General Statutes which went into effect on December 1, 2007. Recently, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted Session Law 2013-185, House Bill 664, which included additional changes to wireless regulations which will be effective as of October 1, 2013. Many of the proposed revisions deal with terminology dictated by General Statutes and are not substantive. The new regulations also limit fees that can be imposed at the local level.

Definitions, Terms and Standards


• Proposed: According to the new State law, any action previously termed “Modification or Collocation” that increases the vertical height of the tower less than 10%, or the height of one additional antenna array up to a total of 20 feet, or increases the square footage of the equipment compound by less than 2,500 square feet is now termed as an “Eligible Facilities Requests”. Those actions which are more intense than Eligible Facilities Requests, but do not include the building of a new tower are referred to as “Substantial Modifications”. A public hearing will not be held for Eligible Facilities Requests or Substantial Modifications. Both Eligible Facilities Requests and Substantial Modification reviews will continue to be reviewed internally by staff. New State and existing Federal laws use the term “Wireless Support Structure” instead of “tower facility”. The term “Wireless Facility” now refers to the ground equipment, cabling running up the tower, and antennas on the tower, but does not include the tower structure. The proposed changes address the terminology and the increased footage of extensions/enlargements that are allowed, without a public hearing.

Balloon Test


• Proposed: Removal of the balloon test requirement. By State law, the special use permit for the wireless support structure must be granted if a need for service is documented; however, the UDO regulations limit the height to 120 feet, unless the provider can prove that additional height is required to provide the service level requested. The balloon test should be eliminated since it may give citizens the false sense they can prevent construction if they can see the balloon and ultimately the top of the structure from their property.

Signage - Several providers and tower structure owners requested that the requirement for provider (collocator) signage on the outside of the facility equipment compound be eliminated. Cumulative signage can be confusing in the event of an emergency.

• Proposed: Eliminate the requirement for the providers to have signage outside the compound. Provider signage would still be required on the cabinets/shelters inside the compound, and tower owners would still be required to have signage outside the compound.

Fees - The new State law limits the fees that can be charged for consulting and administrative reviews associated with staff level approval.

• Proposed:

o New Tower Facility (Wireless Support Structure/Wireless Facility) – the new State law did not address a not-to-exceed figure that a county or consultant could charge for reviewing a new Wireless Facility including the Wireless Support Structure. The law states, “The county may charge a fee provided it is based on the cost of the services and does not exceed what is usual and customary for such services. Any charges or fees assessed by a county on account of an outside consultant shall be fixed in advance and incorporated into a permit or application fee and shall be based on the reasonable cost to be incurred by the county in connection with the regulatory review”. As stated above, the consultant may receive up to $8,500 for services provided to the county paid by the tower structure owner. It is proposed that there be no change to the consultant portion of the fee at this time. New fees will be negotiated at contract renewal. It is proposed; however, that the County’s fee for administrative review be adjusted from $5,000 to $2,500 to bring the fee more in line with the reasonable cost language identified in the new State law.

o Modification or Collocation (Eligible Facilities Requests or Substantial Modifications) - State law, effective October 1, 2013, requires a fixed fee not to exceed $1,000 for a consultant, plus reasonable administrative costs incurred by the county. Consultant fees cannot include costs for travel time or expenses, meals, or overnight accommodations. Eligible Facilities Requests or Substantial Modifications are currently, and will continue to be, handled internally by staff without the use of a consultant and the County’s fee is proposed to be adjusted from $2,500 to $1,000.

The Planning Board conducted a public hearing on the above amendments to the UDO on August 26, 2013. No one spoke at the public hearing. A recommendation for these amendments passed with a unanimous vote of 8-0. Effective October 1, 2013:

• The wireless ordinance be amended under Article VI—Division 4, Sec. 44-685 of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), to comply with revisions to the North Carolina General Statutes. In addition to mandated State revisions, it is also requested that the current UDO requirement for a balloon test be eliminated, along with other minor revisions to make this highly technical section of the UDO more user friendly.

• The Fee Schedule be amended to comply with revisions to the North Carolina General Statutes to:

o Replace the “Co-Location/Modification Review” fee of $2,500, with an “Eligible Facilities Requests / Substantial Modifications” fee of $1,000.

o Replace the “New Tower Construction” fee of $13,500, with a “New Wireless Support Structure/Wireless Facility” fee of $11,000.

B. The Board will hold a public hearing to receive citizen input and consider amending the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to include a definition for Solar Farm (Utility-Scale Solar Application), include solar farms in the UDO’s Use Matrix, and provide specific standards for the development of solar farms.

The proposed text amendments focus on the growing interest in a form of sustainable energy referred to as “solar farms.” Advances in solar photovoltaic technology, dramatic price reductions in the manufacturing of solar panels, and generous Federal and State tax credits have all combined to make this an attractive business venture. Currently, solar farms are not specifically defined in the County’s UDO but are interpreted as “public service facilities” (similar to how other jurisdictions consider them when not specifically defined in local ordinances). Public service facilities/solar farms require special use permits approved by the Board of Adjustment in order to develop in residential, commercial, or industrial districts. The current ordinance requires two specific standards for public service facilities: 50-foot setbacks from all property lines and a buffer/screen between the solar farm and less intensive uses. The Board of Adjustment can require additional standards necessary to address issues or concerns based on the standards’ reasonableness, and have recently begun to adopt this practice.

Apple was the first company to build a solar facility in Catawba County in Maiden. A second Apple site is under construction off Highway 16 North in Conover. Over the past year, the Board of Adjustment has approved six special use permits for solar farms as public service facilities. A seventh permit application will be considered by the Board of Adjustment in September. Two of the six have completed construction and the others have yet to start construction. Even though there is a sunset provision for Federal and State tax credits in 2014 and 2015, the State of North Carolina may continue to be an attractive location for solar farms. It is too early to tell if tax credits will be extended beyond those deadlines and whether this industry will have staying power nationwide. (Currently, State and Federal tax credits combine to exempt 80% of the value of solar panels from taxation.) The County does not anticipate significant near-term increases to its tax base as a result of solar farm installation. Long-term, the overall impact of solar farm construction on a property’s tax value is contingent upon two factors: whether installation of the solar panels would cause the property to cease qualifying for the present use agricultural tax deferment, and whether State and Federal tax credits for solar panel installation will be extended into the future. In situations where solar farms are installed and the present use deferment is maintained, the County’s tax base increases slightly, based on the increment of personal property value not covered by the State tax credits. When the present use deferment is not maintained, the tax gains are more significant.

Staff has closely monitored this industry and compared County regulations with other jurisdictions throughout the state over the past year, regularly finding that the County’s regulations assumed a middle ground between the least restrictive and most restrictive. Concerns over the increasing volume of solar farm requests and the potential aesthetic impacts of these facilities have grown over the past 12 months. At the July 30, 2013, Board of Adjustment meeting, the Board of Adjustment took action granting approval of a solar farm application (subject to several supplemental stipulations) and requesting that the Board of Commissioners refine the existing standards governing solar farm installation to clarify and more closely align with their policy intent.

Consequently, staff reviewed existing standards and prepared a proposal for revisions to the UDO with the intention of mitigating impacts to surrounding properties and viewsheds and protecting the community’s aesthetics while appropriately preserving individual property owners’ rights to use their properties in a manner they deem fit. Staff developed the following proposal and brought it before the Planning Board for consideration:

Definition: Solar Farm (Utility-Scale Solar Application) – A solar photovoltaic facility whose primary purpose is to generate power to sell for commercial gain and is typically sold to energy companies rather than end users

Supplemental Standards:


1. All structures and security fencing must meet a 100-foot front setback measured from the edge of the rights-of-way and 50-foot side and rear setbacks.


2. A landscape buffer/screen along all exterior sides of the security fence must consist of:


a. On-site mature vegetation exists at a minimum height of 10 feet and depth of 75 feet between the security fence and adjacent property including rights-of-way; or


b. A single row of evergreens in combination with mature vegetation, installed at a height of 5 feet achieving opaqueness and a minimum height of 10 feet in 5 years; or


c. A double row of off-set evergreens absent mature vegetation, installed at a height of 5 feet achieving opaqueness and a minimum height of 10 feet in 5 years; or


d. A berm combined with evergreen vegetation installed at a height of 5 feet achieving opaqueness and a minimum height of 10 feet in 5 years.


3. Where visibility of the solar farm is increased due to topography, the landscape buffer/screen must be planted on-site in an area that lessens the view of the solar farm as determined by the Planning Director.


4. All solar panels must be constructed to minimize glare or reflection onto adjacent properties and adjacent roadways and must not interfere with traffic or create a safety hazard.


5. The applicant must secure all necessary approvals and/or permits from NCDOT for the access points for project entrances prior to issuance of a Zoning Authorization Permit.


6. All construction parking must be located outside of the rights-of-way.


7. Erosion control measures must be installed at construction entrances in order to minimize off-site soil damage.


8. The applicant must provide written authorization from the local utility company acknowledging and approving connection to the utility company’s grid.


9. A warning sign concerning voltage must be placed at the main gate to include the name of the solar farm operator and a phone number for the solar farm operator in case of an emergency.


10. Power transmission lines must be located underground to the extent practical.


11. A security fence equipped with a gate and a locking mechanism must be installed at a minimum height of eight feet along all exterior sides of the solar farm.


12. Landscape buffer/screens, security fences, gates, and warning signs must be maintained in good condition until the solar farm is dismantled and removed from the site.


13. Removal of solar farm equipment and site restoration:


a. Prior to the issuance of a Zoning Authorization Permit, the applicant must provide the County with a Performance Guarantee in the amount of 1.25 times the cost estimate of solar equipment removal and site restoration, as determined by a North Carolina licensed engineer or a licensed contractor. It is the responsibility of the applicant to provide the County with the certified cost estimate.


b. The following types of performance guarantees are permitted: bond or certified check.


i. Bonds must renew automatically, include a 60-day notice to the County prior to cancellation, and be approved by the Planning Director.


ii. The certified check must be deposited with the county finance director, as escrow agent, who will deposit the check in an interest-bearing account of the County, with all interest accruing to the applicant.


c. The full amount of the bond or certified check must remain in full force and effect until the removal of the solar farm, related structures, and any necessary site restoration is completed.


d. The land owner must notify the County upon abandonment of the site.
The Planning Board held a public hearing on August 26, 2013, to consider the staff recommendation presented above. No one from the public attended to about the proposed amendments. The Planning Board voted 7-1, favorably recommending that the Board of Commissioners amend the Unified Development Ordinance to:

• Accept the definition of solar farms put forth by staff for integration into the UDO.


• Permit solar farms only in the Light Industrial and General Industrial districts and subsequently the 321-ED(I) district, in contrast to staff’s recommendation to continue to allow solar farms in other zoning districts.


• Require the supplemental standards for solar farms as recommended by staff with the following minor modifications:


o Standard #7 for erosion control: Add the sentence “Existing grass must be maintained in perpetuity sufficient to prevent erosion.


o Standard #9 for signage: Specify that the phone number posted on the warning sign must be a local number to ensure someone is available locally to address any concerns that may arise.


o Standard #13B for bonding requirements: Add the requirement for bonds to be approved by the Planning Director and be from a company on the US Department of Treasury’s Listing of Certified Companies.

After the Planning Board meeting, staff drafted language to reflect the Planning Board’s actions and address three issues: allowable zoning districts for solar farm installation, clarification of the bonding requirement and addition of two more supplemental standards, and effective ordinance date.

1. Allowable Zoning Districts for Solar Farm Installation: As to the required zoning, further discussion among staff focused on the Planning Board’s recommendation that solar farms be allowed only in industrial districts including General Industrial (GI), Light Industrial (LI), and 321-Economic Development Industrial (321-ED(I)). Other than existing industrial zoned land, the seven small area plans called for a very limited expansion of industrial zoning restricted primarily to the I-40 corridor between Conover, Claremont, and Catawba.

Based upon this and the fact all solar farms approved to date have been located within residential districts, new applications in residential districts would have to be rezoned industrial in order for the applications to be viable, which could create the potential for spot zoning not supported by the adopted plans and possibly state law. Another concern relates to the consequences of rezoning a parcel to industrial in the event that the solar farm would not develop or once it no longer operates on the site: the surrounding residential property could be adversely impacted by other industrial uses (not compatible with surrounding residential development) that could be developed on the industrial-zoned property.

Staff recommends solar farms be permitted by right in all industrial districts, but also to allow them in Rural Conservation-Conditional Districts (RCon-CD) and residential lots of a minimum 2-acre size which are classified as R-80 Residential-Conditional Districts (R-80-CD). Conditional zoning in RCon-CD and R-80-CD offers the advantages of:

• Rezoning recommended by the Planning Board and approved by the Board of Commissioners based upon a specific use (i.e. solar farm)


• A detailed site plan specific to a solar farm on a particular tract of land


• Negotiated development conditions in addition to the proposed standards


• Surrounding property owners assured if the solar farm doesn’t develop no other use can proceed without going through the rezoning process


• Public can express its opinions and concerns through the legislative process rather than being restricted by the rules of a quasi-judicial hearing (Board of Adjustment)

2. Clarification of Bonding Requirement / Addition of Two More Supplemental Standards: Additional considerations requiring notification of transfer of ownership of the solar farm, submittal of a decommissioning plan, and more specificity related to the bond requirement have been added to the staff’s post-planning board recommendation, which can be seen below in its entirety. (These specific changes are addressed in standards #13 and #14. Standards #1 through #12 are identical with those presented above.)

Because the solar farm industry in North Carolina is in its infancy, staff had to expand the scope of its research beyond the solar industry to identify relevant examples of situations where bonding has been required. Through contact with the School of Government and solicitation of information from other County attorneys, the industry of wind generation was identified as having comparable requirements. The changes to standard #14 grew out of staff’s review of other counties’ ordinances governing the construction of wind generation facilities.

3. Effective Ordinance Date: Staff recommends an effective date of October 1, 2013 for the proposed ordinance changes.

Staff contacted each Planning Board member individually to explain the changes that evolved out of post-Planning Board discussion. All but one Planning Board member agreed with the rationale for the proposal to allow solar farms on parcels zoned Rural Conservation-Conditional Districts (RCon-CD) and R-80 Residential-Conditional Districts (R-80-CD) in addition to General Industrial (GI), Light Industrial (LI), and 321-Economic Development Industrial (321-ED(I)) districts, and the Planning Board members unanimously agreed with staff’s recommendation to set an effective date of October 1, 2013 for the proposed ordinance changes.

Staff recommends the Board of Commissioners adopt the following proposed amendments to the UDO, effective October 1, 2013:


1. A definition for Solar Farm (Utility-Scale Solar Application) as proposed above,


2. Provide additional specific standards for the development of solar farms, and


3. Include solar farms in the Use Matrix table.

CONSENT AGENDA
A. The Board will consider authorizing the sole source exemption for the purchase of 18 in-car camera systems from L3 Communications in the amount of $89,997. Funding for this purchase is included in the current County budget. In-car video systems are important for officer safety and can provide crucial evidence in areas such as car chases and treatment of suspects. The systems help with evidence in cases and reduce liability to the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office already has L3 Communication’s software and the system is installed in ten vehicles. This system has proven to be reliable; the company has been progressive with system upgrades and provided good customer service. The purchase of 18 additional units will replace a system that does not have a reliable track record. Converting all vehicles to L3 Communications will standardize the Patrol fleet by having the same interface to stage and view the system and allow for the same upload, storage and viewing of videos. The L3 Communications system can only be purchased from L3 Communications/Mobile Vision, Inc.

North Carolina General Statute 143-129 allows for an exception from formal bidding for purchase contracts when performance or price competition for a product are not available; when a needed product is available from only one source of supply; or when standardization or compatibility is the overriding consideration. This exception requires the governing body approval and a record much be maintained of purchases made. The Board’s Finance and Personnel Subcommittee recommends this sole source exemption.

B. The Board will consider approval of a Pyrotechnics Permit for the Greater Hickory Classic Foundation. The Greater Hickory Classic Foundation has submitted a Pyrotechnic Permit application. The requested permit is for a fireworks display to be conducted on September 22, 2013, at 3763 Golf Drive in Conover, North Carolina. The display is scheduled to occur at approximately 8:30 p.m. and last approximately 30 minutes. The Greater Hickory Classic Foundation has contracted with Pyrotechnico to conduct the exhibition. Mr. John Adair will be the operator for this event and possesses a valid “Outdoor Pyrotechnics Display Operators Permit” through the North Carolina Department of Insurance’s Office of State Fire Marshal. Based on the application, all statutory requirements have been or will be met. If at any time, any requirement of the permit is not satisfied, the Fire/Rescue Division will immediately revoke the permit. The Board’s Policy and Public Works Subcommittee recommends approval of this pyrotechnics permit.

DEPARTMENTAL REPORTS


ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

The Board will consider granting the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) Board additional flexibility when considering applications for the Demolition Fee Waiver Program and adding a requirement that any project benefitting from the Fee Waiver program post Innovate Catawba Reinventing Spaces signage onsite. The Fee Waiver program has proven to be a catalyst in the redevelopment of several notable properties and resulted in the re-investment of more than $21 million. However, recently the EDC Board supported a demolition project in concept and adjacent businesses and the City of Hickory supported the project, but by nature of the guidelines as written, the EDC Board could not officially approve the project because it did not meet a minimum of 2 acres.

The EDC Board feels its sole responsibility is to determine whether the property meets the rules for eligibility, while the Board of Commissioners maintains sole responsibility for developing the Fee Waiver rules. The current situation offers no flexibility to the EDC Board. The EDC Board is seeking the addition of the following statement to the Fee Waiver guidelines: “Under extenuating or unusual circumstances, flexibility to these guidelines may be granted by means of letters of support by the manager and/or elected body of the affected local governing body”. This statement provides flexibility to the EDC Board to approve worthwhile demolition & redevelopment projects otherwise not presently eligible.

The Fee Waiver program aligns closely with one of the six work groups of “Innovate Catawba”, Reinventing Spaces.
To further link the two and communicate their community impact, the EDC would like to add a requirement to the Fee Waiver guidelines that Innovate Catawba signage is prominently posted onsite at all projects benefitting from the County’s Fee Waiver program. The EDC suggests at minimum that a 4 foot by 4 foot banner with an approved Innovate Catawba logo be installed in a visible location at the expense of the demo fee waiver grantee. The Board’s Policy and Public Work Subcommittee recommends this added flexibility for the Fee Waiver Program as well as the required signage.

CONTACT: DAVE HARDIN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER 828-465-8464