Solar farm Climax Road

Solar farms are becoming a common sight in Pittsylvania County. This facility is located off Climax Road. 

The rezoning 52 acres along Mill Creek Road near Chatham was unanimously recommended for approval Tuesday by the Pittsylvania County Planning Commission — the first step toward construction of a community solar facility on the property.

Dimension Renewable Energy of Atlanta wants to build a 3.75 MW community solar facility — a new concept where Dominion Power customers can subscribe to purchase solar credits to offset their electric bills, according to Kieran Siao with Dimension. There are an estimated 5,300 Dominion customers in the county, said Siao.

Because it's a community solar project, it is smaller — in this case 14 acres would be within the solar facility fence line. The perimeter of the project would retain its existing vegetation and more will be added in open areas to shield the facility from sight, said Siao.

Community solar facilities differ from a utility scale project — the latter of which has become a familiar sight in Pittyslvania County — by size and the amount of energy generated.

A community solar facility is no larger than 25 acres and generates no more than 5MW of power. A utility scale project ranges from 100 to 400 acres and generates from 20 MW to 1000 MW of power, said Siao.

The county, however, under its ordinance, classifies any energy conversion system that generates power for consumption by or under contract with a utility provider, and is more than five acres, as a utility scale solar facility.

Siao said Dimension will voluntarily provide annual cash payments to the county for public improvements and the project is expected to generate $250,000 in its 25-year lifespan. Once the project has reached the end of its lifespan, the panels will be removed and recycled, said Siao.

Siao said the company has conducted several meetings with residents to acquaint them with the project and answer questions.

Chatham Town Manager Richard Cocke said the Town Council wants an opportunity to discuss this at its next meeting and before final approval of the special use permit that would allow the facility to be built.

Pittsylvania County Director of Community Development Emily Ragsdale said it would likely take another four months before the Board of Zoning Appeals hears the special use permit application. Cocke said that was enough time for the Council.

The land is currently double-zoned agricultural and residential and this rezoning would make the entire property agricultural. The county's comprehensive plan designates the property's future use as industrial.

The rezoning application moves on to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

Planners unanimously recommended approval of a rezoning request by Joshua and Amy Jennings of nearly 10 acres on US Hwy. 58 in the Tunstall District. The Jennings’ want to build an indoor shooting range on the property that is now vacant, according to the application. The proposed 9,600 square foot building would include four to six shooting lanes and be built to all Department of Energy specifications that address noise suppression and safety. The facility would be built to accommodate .30 caliber rifles with pistols of less than .50 caliber being the intended weaponry, according to the application.

In addition to the rezoning receiving final approval by the Board of Supervisors, the application will require a special use permit from the Pittsylvania County Board of Zoning Appeals to operate a gun range.

Joshua Jennings said he and his wife already operate a retail business and want to put this portion of the operation up the road.

The Commission also recommended approval of a special use permit for a permanent saw mill on 351 acres of property located on Corner Road in the Banister District. 

The special use permit, requested by Aquillas Kanagy and Jacob Mast, would allow for the saw mill, to be used primarily for personal use, according to the application.

The special use permit stipulates that no structure and no storage of lumber, logs, chips or timber should be located closer than 100 feet to any lot line.

Mast told the Commission that they will likely be selling some of the lumber as they need to make money and that there will be some traffic. However, he said, all the work is done by hand as they are part of the Amish community.

A few neighbors spoke out against the project, mostly due to concerns about traffic and noise.

Another neighbor, Beverly George, said she is located closest to the property in question and is in favor of the project.

There were no restrictions attached to the planners' recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

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