Chesterfield County supervisors are asking for the public’s input next month on a zoning change that would allow solar farms to be built in the more rural parts of the county.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, supervisors set a May 22 public hearing on a zoning amendment that would make it easier to place solar facilities in agricultural areas.
As county decision-makers weigh the changes, companies are looking at sites in Matoaca as potential solar farms that could generate electricity for customers. Leslie Haley, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, said the zoning change opens the door for the county to consider the proposals.
“We know we have two [solar farms], I believe, that are in the pipeline,” Haley said prior to Wednesday’s meeting.
Winterpock Solar LLC has applied to the county to build a 20-megawatt solar farm on 308 acres off Eppes Falls Road and River Road in Matoaca, according to planning officials.
Another company, the Alliance Development Group, has announced that it wants to build a 20-megawatt solar farm on 135 acres leased from the Children’s Home of Virginia Baptist, located on Hickory Road.
The proposed zoning amendment being considered by supervisors would allow solar farms to be built on land zoned for agricultural use. Under the county’s current zoning, which was adopted in the 1990s, a solar farm would be treated like a power plant and prospective builders would have to apply to put the facility in an industrial zone, said Andrew Gillies, Chesterfield’s planning director.
Gillies suggested that the decades-old approach was more geared toward gas- or coal-powered plants, and said solar farms could be better placed in other areas of the county.
“We don’t want to eat up all our industrial land by putting solar farms on it,” Gillies said. “We really just needed to kind of bring our zoning ordinance up to the 2019 standards and having solar facilities separate from typical power plants.”
Under the changed zoning, someone looking to put a solar facility on agricultural land wouldn’t have to have the property rezoned to industrial. Instead, they would apply for a conditional-use permit.
Meanwhile Wednesday, the board also scheduled a public hearing for next month to consider the county’s latest update to its comprehensive plan, which is the overall blueprint for how Chesterfield will grow in coming years.
Steven Haasch, a Chesterfield planning manager, told supervisors at a Wednesday work session that while there are plenty of places for people to live in suburban and rural settings, the county is lacking compact, walkable “active lifestyle centers” that would have homes, recreation and shopping in the same spot.
“That’s really what we really lack today, and what our comprehensive plan is striving for us to achieve,” Haasch said.
The hearings on the comprehensive plan and the solar zoning change will take place at the Board of Supervisors meeting on May 22, which starts at 6 p.m. at 10001 Iron Bridge Road.