Supervisors question 12-month limit between permit applications

Two solar energy projects the Louisa County Board of Supervisors recently rejected could get another look in the near future, if the project applicants come back with proposals that are substantially different.

The county code says once the board denies a conditional use permit request, it cannot reconsider “substantially the same application” within a 12-month period. But it’s unclear what would make a new application different enough to get around the rule.

The two solar projects include one the board voted down on Sept. 8 for Belcher Solar in the Waldrop Church Road area, west of the town of Louisa. The other was proposed by SolUnesco in Apple Grove, near Jefferson Highway (Route 33); the board rejected it at their Aug. 3 meeting.

In both cases the board’s biggest objection was to what members saw as insufficient buffers to shield nearby residents from seeing a sea of solar panels in an otherwise rural, agricultural area. The Belcher Solar project also suffered because a project the same company was involved with nearby has been controversial due to noise, truck traffic and stormwater runoff.

“We need to look at that policy,” said Supervisor Eric Purcell (Louisa District), referring to the 12-month rule. “What does substantially different mean? It’s subjective. There needs to be some kind of metric for that.”

The county had good reason to institute the 12-month limit, said Supervisor Fitzgerald Barnes (Patrick Henry District). He recalled that applicants used to come back to the board as little as two weeks after their projects were turned down to ask for a second look. That wasn’t fair to residents who assumed the board was serious when it voted no.

“The residents don’t want to have to come back every two weeks to make sure it’s still denied,” Barnes said.

But that was the exact situation at the board’s Sept. 17 meeting, with several residents who had spoken against the Belcher Solar project earlier in the month once again up in arms. Linda Chapman, a Tisdale Road resident, said she had heard Belcher might come back to seek approval of one portion of the project.

The board took no action on the matter after a brief discussion about the 12-month restriction.

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