The Supervisors' 4-3 vote to deny farmers the right to use their land for a temporary solar project should be very troubling for county residents. Some supposedly conservative voices have completely lost sight of the real issue, which is that a government guide to future potential zoning, which is all a Comprehensive Plan is supposed to be, has been elevated above landowner rights. This decision was about pushing farmers off their land in favor of bringing in private developers.
Landowning families don't farm for their neighbors’ amusement. They are businesses that have to evolve to survive in a modern economy. Seeking to have and eat cake is in fact the essence of capitalism. Considering benign, temporary opportunities like solar, with no noise, traffic, lights, or pollution, should be commended, not condemned.
Smearing solar developers as being large and out-of-state makes no sense, because on that basis the County would reject virtually all investment — especially the type of heavy industrial development Carolyn Bragg advocates. Massively disruptive outside investment from large corporations is exactly what she and her allies on the Board want to force on the residents and landowners of Stuarts Draft.
The anti-solar contingent that somehow believes this is about preserving rural landscapes should listen more carefully to Mrs. Bragg, who does not hide the fact that she is trying to keep this land available for factories. Many anti-solar voices further misunderstand, or willfully ignore, that the Comp Plan does not protect the rural character of Stuarts Draft. Quite the opposite — it is a plan for its total, permanent, urban-style development. There is no farming in the future plan for Stuarts Draft; the entire map is colored red for industrial development and yellow for residential subdivisions.
Rural character proponents should also pay attention to Mike Shull, who said in the newspaper, "We would have gotten a lot more from Toyota than this,” and Wendell Coleman, who said to his Fishersville constituents in one Board meeting, "If you don’t want to see the change that is coming, then you might as well move, because the Comprehensive Plan has set these areas aside for development."
In short, these Supervisors all agree: this is not your land, this is County land, and they plan to put industrial facilities here whether we like it or not. Unlike a well-buffered solar farm, that level of industrialization cannot be hidden. Imagine a factory a few hundred feet off Stuarts Draft Highway. That is what the Comprehensive Plan says should be there. How will the quiet enjoyment and views be preserved when Toyota or Campbell's Soup come to town?
We landowners chose solar because, contrary to the Comprehensive Plan vision, it actually preserves the rural character of the area. I can introduce you to many neighbors of the project who agree that solar is much preferred over Carolyn Bragg’s vision for the South River District. I've gone door to door to meet with neighbors, as have other members of my family, and other would-be project landowners. We've reached out to concerned neighbors who don't live adjacent and aren't even visually impacted. Most neighbors are supportive and would rather live next to a quiet, well-buffered solar farm than factories or housing developments.
I can't imagine a more open and transparent process.
Over the past year there was public discussion of the Solar Ordinance, two separate mailers were sent to every address within a mile of the project, a community firehouse meeting, and both the developer and landowners put great effort into meeting with direct neighbors face to face. There was public discussion of solar at the Planning Commission and the Board, then a Public Meeting where it was agreed to wait for the results of the Lyndhurst Sewer Study, then the Comp Plan conformity public hearing with the Planning Commission, and another Public Meeting.
Not to mention Mrs. Bragg's numerous "listening" sessions throughout the fall. The entire project proposal has been available on the county website throughout. Community Energy Solar also shared the layouts and revisions leading to the compromise with the local press so the community would know about the increased setbacks and removal of some areas designed to address the county’s Comprehensive Plan economic development concerns.
Mrs. Bragg considered only one portion of the Comprehensive Plan during the entire review process — the section that says the County will do what it can to force you off your land so they can bring in more industrial developers and subdivisions. Carefully read this shocking statement from Mrs. Bragg’s list of reasons to deny the permit: "Number 4, after the project is decommissioned and particularly returns to agriculture, there could be a potential for significant incompatibility of land uses with permitted agriculture operations and the built environment envisioned in the urban service and community development areas, which will have time to grow over the 35 years."
To summarize, Mrs. Bragg denied the permit because she doesn’t want us farming this land. She and the Board are putting all landowners with open farmland in the Urban Service and Community Development Areas on notice — the County is coming for your land because you and your family staying on your farmland does not fit in with the County's industrial and suburban development dreams.
This conveniently (for them) ignores the fact that there are many other sections of the Comp Plan that specifically support landowner rights, continuing agriculture, diversifying income for farmers, improving the environment, and facilitating the transfer of land across generations.
We certainly don't feel "powerful, monied or well-connected." I would say we feel powerless, struggling, and that our rights are being violated by our elected officials. Many landowners in the project have also been subject to eminent domain by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline — to have that forced down our throats, and then be denied an attractive solar opportunity and told we must sell to developers, makes us really wonder about the direction our county and state are headed.