Planning board eyes change in Chocowinity

Published 10:17 pm Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Chocowinity Planning Board addressed two hot button issues of late in Beaufort County Monday night: new jails and solar farms.

First on the agenda was the fact that Chocowinity has no language in existing zoning ordinances that would accommodate a jail in the Chocowinity Industrial Park. Mid-East representative Ben Rogers started the process of correcting the lack, submitting an example of what that language might look like: an amendment to the current code’s light industrial district, specifying a jail under conditional uses. Planning Board members questioned whether or not Chocowinity was seriously being considered as the site of a new jail, to which Rogers responded, “That’s what the commissioners are talking about.”

The next item on the agenda was another proposed amendment, this one ending in a recommendation from the Planning Board to the Town Board. O2Energies, a solar-technology firm out of Cornelius, has requested solar farms be added as a conditional use to existing residential zoning. The site of O2Energies’ proposed solar farm is residential property bordered by U.S. Highway 17 bypass, U.S. 17 Business and Bragaw Lane be designated. The property is currently within the planning and zoning limits of Chocowinity, but outside city limits.

Rogers suggested that Chocowinity’s solar farm ordinance be modeled on the solar farm ordinance recently created and adopted by the county. The main concerns driving the addition of a solar farm ordinance have to do with buffers — elements put in place from creating an “eyesore” in the community — and whether the solar farm would impede future development of residential property abutting the land.

O2Energies has suggested using cedar trees to divide the solar farm from the undeveloped residential land, according to Rogers.

Rogers also mentioned the company has offered a voluntary annexation of the land, which would increase the city’s tax revenue.

Planning board members voted to recommend the Chocowinity Town Board adopt a conditional use amendment to existing residential zoning.

The Chocowinity Town Board will hold a public hearing regarding the addition of the solar farm amendment to the zoning ordinance at its next meeting on March 4.

“I’m guessing there will be a lot of folks with some questions there, as well,” Rogers told the planning board members.