Solar (copy)

A new solar project has been approved in Chesterfield.

Plans for a large-scale solar farm in a rural part of southern Chesterfield have been given the green light by county supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday unanimously approved Cypress Creek Renewables' proposal to build a 20-megawatt solar facility on 329 acres between Eppes Falls Road and River Road.

It was the second time in a month that supervisors endorsed a solar farm plan. At their September meeting, the panel approved a 150-megawatt solar farm and a data center at the former megasite property on Branders Bridge Road in the Bermuda district.

The Cypress Creek plan sparked concerns from some neighbors who said it amounted to placing an industrial facility in the rural area; they worried about how it would impact property values.

William H. Shewmake, a lawyer for Cypress Creek, told supervisors on Wednesday that his company has undertaken studies showing new solar facilities don't harm nearby property values, although some neighbors have said those studies were based on limited data.

Shewmake said the panels would rest close to the ground, that trees would screen the facility from nearby residences and that the renewable energy from the solar farm would curb carbon dioxide emissions at a level equivalent to taking 7,200 cars off the road each year. He added that once in operation, the facility won't generate any sound that neighbors could hear.

"It's not going to have any audible noise. It's not going to have any emissions. You're not going to have any glare," Shewmake said.

The plan calls for having the facility rest at least 200 feet away from homes on Eppes Falls Road. Cypress Creek will also be required to conduct a geotechnical report to look for mining shafts and air vents on the property.

About a half dozen speakers addressed the board during the public hearing, some registering support for the plan and others expressing concerns.

Dawn Gambardella, who lives next to the solar farm site, said she was concerned that Cypress Creek's plans didn't detail how the company would dispose of any solar panels and the toxic materials in them.

Haley Larabee, the Cypress Creek project manager for the solar farm plan, said solar panels typically are recycled and wouldn't be sent to landfills.

Gambardella and her husband, Rosario, have taken issue with that fact that Cypress Creek Renewables been making donations over the last year to local campaigns. Among the donations is $400 contribution to Supervisor Leslie Haley's campaign in December 2018 and $3,500 this year to Chesterfield Forward, a political action committee that supports Republican candidates for local offices in Chesterfield, according to records from the Virginia Public Access Project.

The couple suggested that any county official who benefited either directly or indirectly from a Cypress Creek donation should recuse themselves from the approval process for the solar farm.

Haley wrote the Gambardellas an email in September telling them she's never been asked to switch her vote on a case based on money given to her campaign, and the supervisor added that she's an ethics lawyer who "can't be bought."

"You may not always agree with my vote, but I will tell you I'm going to vote the way I believe is right -- every time," Haley wrote.

With local elections approaching Nov. 5, Dawn Gambardella urged supervisors at the Wednesday meeting to hold off taking a vote on the plan, suggesting that supervisors could leave the decision up to newly-elected members taking office in January.

"I don't see a hurry as far as reaching a resolution on this tonight," Gambardella said.

But Steve Elswick, the supervisor for the Matoaca district where the facility would rest, said that the developer and the county staff have been responsive to concerns that have arisen over the proposal.

"When I look at what could go out there, what the plan says, I think this is the least intrusive thing we could do," Elwick said.

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