Planning Commission Expected To Make sPower SUP Recommendation Tonight
Today, the Planning Commission is expected to make its formal recommendation for the three sPower Special Use Permits (SUPs) to allow a large solar energy facility in western Spotsylvania. Regardless of the vote outcome, it will be sent to the Board of Supervisors for approval. The Board of Supervisors currently has a meeting scheduled at the Marshall Center on February 5th at 4:30pm dedicated solely to the three sPower SUP applications.
A few observations so far. First, the process has worked. Whether one favors or opposes the project, the process has been handled in a manner consistent with previous applications. Some have questioned the Planning Commission’s decision to close the public comment period, but this decision was in line with prior applications. The idea that the sPower projects were treated differently cannot be substantiated when compared to past applications.
Second, the County’s Planning staff did a commendable job with this application, which included recommending over 140 conditions on the applicant to protect the community – an apparent high for SUP applications in Spotsy. The Planning staff heard the community and addressed each concern that was voiced in a manner consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan, county ordinances, state codes and federal laws. In the process, the Planning Commission strengthened some conditions and weakened or removed others, but the participation by the public was clearly taken seriously in the application process - as it has in the past.
Third, the stewardship of Planning Commission Chair, Gregg Newhouse, should be commended. Commissioner Newhouse has done a solid job administering a thorough and transparent SUP public hearing, while keeping the process moving forward in an efficient manner. This is not an easy task, especially considering the sensitivity of such a controversial project as this one.
One last observation, over the last few months during this sPower application it has become clear that citizens don’t seem to trust their elected officials to make good choices. If they did so many wouldn’t have felt the need to continue to speak on the same subjects over and over. I don’t know how the Supervisors have communicated with constituents outside meetings – but staying quiet publicly and allowing the sPower application to run its course without commenting was the right choice. This was a necessary evil to ensure that they maintain at least the perception of their objectivity in the public eye so that any decision they make does not seem to be predetermined. On that note, they should be commended. Overall, however, the Supervisors tendency to vote without adequately explaining how they came to their conclusions probably contributes to the community’s collective uneasiness when high profile applications are presented.
There also seems to be a lack of confidence and trust that the County Zoning staff is capable of enforcing these SUP conditions proposed for the sPower project. If County staff is indeed incapable – which I don’t believe is true – then they are likely incapable of monitoring any infraction to County Ordinances or SUP applications for compliance. However, these types of applications have been receiving approval in recent years with little to no community involvement.
The issue remains two fold. The community has not provided the Board with sustained and regular engagement for all projects that affect the community. Likewise, the Supervisors continue to lag behind the idea in using their influence and position to keep the community informed, if not about community developments, but of their own views of them. If we are able to somehow mesh the two of these aspirations together over time, it will make Spotsy only that much better of a place to live.