Landowners sue county over solar vote

Published 5:56 pm Thursday, February 10, 2022

By Stephen Faleski

The Farmville Herald

Two landowners whose properties border a proposed 149-megawatt solar farm are asking Buckingham’s Circuit Court to overturn the county’s approval of the project.

Theodore Smith and Jane Moss filed a lawsuit in December asking the court to declare the Buckingham County Board of Supervisors’ Nov. 8 vote granting the proposed Riverstone Solar project a special use permit “invalid and void” on the ground that they and other adjacent landowners weren’t provided timely notice of public hearings on the matter.

Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy Inc. proposes to locate the solar farm on nearly 1,963 acres owned by the Weyerhaeuser timberland company. The solar farm is expected to bring around $14.8 million in tax revenue to Buckingham over the project’s 40-year lifespan.

The suit argues the county, “in its haste to satisfy the expedited timeframes proposed” by Apex, “failed to give written notice” of the Planning Commission’s Sept. 27 public hearing on the application, and “inexplicably provided no written notice at all” regarding the Board of Supervisors’ Nov. 8 public hearing.

According to the recorded minutes of the board’s Oct. 21 meeting, County Zoning Administrator Nicci Edmonston acknowledged a delay in mailing notifications to adjacent landowners regarding the Sept. 27 Planning Commission hearing. They ended up being mailed Sept. 22 or 23.

According to the suit, Smith didn’t receive the notice until the evening of Sept. 27. Moss received hers on Sept. 24, but didn’t open it until after the Sept. 27 hearing had concluded.

The suit argues the delay in notification amounts to a violation of state law, specifically Virginia Code 15.2-2204. The code mandates a hearing be advertised two successive weeks in a newspaper having general circulation in the locality, and that written notices be provided to all owners of adjacent properties, at least five days prior to the date of any hearing pertaining to “an application for special exception for a change in use.”

The Sept. 27 Planning Commission hearing was advertised in the Sept. 17 and Sept. 22 editions of The Farmville Herald. The Nov. 8 Board of Supervisors hearing was advertised in the Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 editions, and was preceded by an Oct. 20 front-page story announcing the hearing.

The lawsuit further alleges Apex violated the county’s zoning ordinance by having “failed to post any visible signage” advertising the Sept. 27 hearing on each of the four parcels comprising the proposed solar farm. Apex “posted visible signage on on two of the four SUP (special use permit) Properties sometime after the Planning Commission public hearing but prior to the Board’s public hearing,” the suit states.

The two landowners are being represented by H. Clark Leming and Peter Basanti of the firm Leming and Healy P.C. The suit names Buckingham’s Board of Supervisors, Apex and its subsidiary, Riverstone Solar LLC, as separate defendants.

Buckingham County Administrator Karl Carter declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but denied the landowners’ allegation that no written notice was ever mailed prior to the Nov. 8 public hearing.