Will large solar facilities impact the property values of neighbors in Culpeper County? The Board of Supervisors wants a definitive answer on that.
At its meeting Tuesday, the board voted 4-3 to issue a request for proposals for an outside firm to appraise the potential impact of land values adjacent to solar farms as are being proposed for the first time in Culpeper County. Voting against it were Supervisors Alexa Fritz, Gary Deal and Sue Hansohn.
Supervisor Jack Frazier led the effort for the independent review after hearing from constituents.
“It has developed a tremendous amount of concern from multiple residents next door to these solar projects,” he said.
Virginia Solar is seeking to build a solar farm on 178 acres along Glen Ella Road between Culpeper and Brandy Station while Greenwood Solar is seeking permission for a project on 1,000 acres on various parcels along Route 661 and Route 663, south of Stevensburg. Culpeper County Board Chairman Bill Chase is one of six property owners on whose land (2.3 acres) the Greenwood project would be built.
Both companies have claimed their projects would not negatively impact adjoining property values and the larger project submitted an analysis to support that position generated from solar farm projects in North Carolina.
Hansohn supported an independent review of the developer’s analysis in determining property value impact in Culpeper rather than doing a full-fledged independent study of the issue.
“I understand their concerns and their fear,” she said of neighboring land owners. “But we can’t do an appraisal on something that hasn’t happened.”
Hansohn made a motion to hire someone to look at the developer’s appraisal at a cost not to exceed $2,500, but it failed.
“It means nothing, it’s inaccurate,” said Frazier of the developer’s analysis.
He said it analyzed property values one or two miles from the solar farm and not right next to it as is being proposed in Culpeper.
“All you have to do is go to one of these meetings and see the pushback we are getting,” Frazier said. “We owe it to our constituents to make sure their property doesn’t get devalued by this solar.”
Supervisor Brad Rosenberger sided with Frazier in wanting an independent review that according to staff will be costlier to conduct.
“I think the board might be being pennywise and pound foolish in not going out and doing the extra step to have the protection depending on what the board may want to do,” he said. “I think you need to take a broader look.”
County Attorney Bobbi Jo Alexis advised of a case in North Carolina where a county board turned down a solar application based on conjecture about decreased property values for neighbors. The solar company appealed the decision to the state court and won, the attorney said.
“You really should have an objective review to empower you to say … I’m really worried about property values,” Alexis said. “In order to withstand judicial review, it would be in your best interests … It’s more expensive, but with that comes some security. You have the freedom in the future to make the decision to say no if you’re uncertain at any point right now.”
Chase said it’s not true what his neighbors and other local residents are saying about decreased property values due to adjoining solar farms.
“There’s this fanatical bit saying things that aren’t true so we got to weed out what’s true and what isn’t,” he said.
As a former coal operator, Chase said he doesn’t necessarily like solar energy.
“The coal business is done – I accept that now. You can’t run gas lines anymore, you can’t drill so what is the option to solar energy?” he said. “If someone can tell me that then I’ll quit saying we got to go solar.”
Frazier said the board had already made up its mind about supporting the solar farm projects to which Hansohn took great issue.
“No, we haven’t. I wish you wouldn’t say that,” she said. “Don’t insult people telling them that they have already made up their minds.”
Chase said he was most concerned about the county spending a lot of money to conduct the independent review. Frazier said his concern was protecting the property values of local residents.
“If it comes out that it doesn’t affect it then so be it, we move on, but we need to know,” he said.
Deal voted against the measure because he felt it could set a bad precedent. Residents expressed concern about property values when the board approved a new cell tower in the Boston area, he said.
“It was a needed structure in that area, but we didn’t go out and do an official appraisal,” Deal said.
Fritz voted against it because she favored the less expensive option of reviewing the developer’s appraisal report. She also felt the broader analysis of solar farm property value impacts should have gone to the Rules Committee first for developing the scope of the request for proposals.