One neighbor thinks a proposed 94-acre solar energy farm is getting lax treatment by the city, but the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission approved the farm’s rezoning request and plan on Thursday night anyway.
Cypress Creek Renewables is asking that the city rezone the land from agricultural to a planned district, which would allow construction of the solar farm in east Columbia but give the city some control over how the land is developed.
The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the Columbia City Council approve the rezoning.
A staff report to the commission supported the approval, as did city planner Rusty Palmer.
The land, which lies south of Interstate 70 Drive Southeast near St. Charles Road, is owned by Dunlop Developments and is being leased to Cypress Creek. Cypress Creek will operate under the name “Truman Solar” and has a contract with Columbia to help the city reach its renewable energy targets, according to previous Missourian reporting. The city plans to have 25 percent of its electric retail sales purchased or generated from renewable sources by 2023.
The contract, which was approved earlier this year, calls for the city to buy solar energy from Cypress Creek for 30 years at an estimated total cost of just under $30 million .
Cypress Creek operates nationwide with around 230 facilities.
“We’ve really been well-received,” said Scott Novack, a senior developer for Cypress Creek, told the commission.
Despite the promise of renewable energy, not everyone was satisfied with the company’s current plan. Tim Waid, who owns property directly south of Dunlop’s, sent a letter to Novack and Palmer on July 21 citing several problems he has with the solar farm. At the meeting, Waid criticized waivers being given by the city that he felt violated its own policy.
In their proposal, Cypress Creek asked for three environmental and landscaping waivers, such as an exemption from installing street trees along Interstate 70, which is normally required. The trees would act as a screen between the highway and the farm.
This was one of Waid’s points of contention, and a few commissioners also expressed concern about the appearance of the solar farm.
“I don’t think solar panels are as beautiful as, apparently, the applicants think,” Commissioner Brian Toohey said.
Toohey was not alone in his concern, and as a result the plan was approved with the exception of granting Cypress Creek the street tree waiver. The other two waivers were approved, but the council could change that.
Waid also complained at the meeting about the potential for increased stormwater runoff from the farm, given that solar panels are impervious. But Cypress Creek’s plan says it will plant native grass under the panels and at the disturbed areas of the property to slow any runoff.
After the meeting, Waid said he was upset with the approval of the plan. He said he felt the city was acting in “bad faith” and ignored its own rules in order to fulfill its quota for renewable energy.
“Bad city government,” Waid said.
Despite Waid’s objections, the proposal will move forward to the council, where Cypress Creek will need to get final approval.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.