HAMLET — The city’s Planning Board will meet at 7 p.m. Monday to decide whether Greentegrity Land Investment can move ahead with plans to let a solar farm be built on 37 acres of what once was a family dairy farm.
The same petition was set to come before the City Council in March but was postponed. On Wednesday, Zoning Administrator Gail Strickland said the city decided the Planning Board should consider the petition first, since it involved potentially rezoning the tract from “residential agriculture” to “light industry.”
Yan Solihin, a professor in N.C. State University’s College of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is the principal behind Greentegrity. He did not wish to speak Wednesday about the potential project or the hearing for fear it would feul opposition to the project.
The company that would build the solar farm — ESA Renewables of Sanford, Florida — also has refused to answer repeated requests for comment.
Richmond County already has six solar farms and one approved for the Hamlet area that has yet to be built.
Ironically, it was a family feud over whether to build such a “farm” on the old Ideal Dairy Farm tract — otherwise known as Tax Map 749104 Block 82 and Lot 5892, near U.S. 74 and Old Laurinburg Road — that landed the 245 acres on the market in the first place.
“We started several years ago” trying to get family members to lease part of the tract for a solar farm, said William Land Parks, a Durham attorney who managed the sale of the land owned by his late grandfather.
The family talked to “two or three” solar companies, he said, but continuously ran against one roadblock: a nephew who opposed the idea. So the family decided to “just let it go,” selling in December 2017 for less than half of what they could have made with a renewable-energy concern.
Now, Parks is tickled pink that things have come full circle.
“To me, it would be fantastic (for the plot to become) a solar farm,” he said. Most of the 245 acres has gone to seed, sprouting volunteer trees and bushes — and people’s throwaways — where once the family taught horseback riding and raised dairy cows.
In 2016, Hamlet approved the building of its first solar farm in much the same area, Strickland said in March. Construction has not begun, she said, because the company said it was awaiting improvements in the solar panels before installing them.
The new Hamlet farm would be built near the site of the old Coca-Cola bottling plant and across U.S. 74 from Unique Stone. Few houses border the land.
On its website, ESA Renewables describes itself as “an alternative-energy provider focused on delivering turn-key commercial and industrial photovoltaic projects to customers worldwide.” Its more than 500 installations include solar farms in Italy, Chile and Spain.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]