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SEPTEMBER 16, 2013
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.
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.
8. Public Hearings:
10. Consent Agenda:
11. Departmental Reports
14. Manager’s Report.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Fees - The new State law limits the fees that can be charged for consulting and administrative reviews associated with staff level approval.
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:
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
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:
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:
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.
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.
CONTACT: DAVE HARDIN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER 828-465-8464
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