The Salem Planning Commission has ‘indefinitely tabled’ a preliminary approval for a special use permit for a solar energy electrical generation facility just south of Salem.
The decision came when City Manager Bill Gruen addressed the commission asking them not to put an agreed upon restriction on the deed that would require the 80 acres of land at South College and Kell Street to go back to agricultural use.
“If the planning commission in 25 years or 50 years, would say hey we want this to be farm ground and parks. Parks aren’t consistent with a farm necessarily so that wouldn’t be a permitted use. The project could potentially be dead,” said Gruen. “Or maybe like a subdivision. Salem could really use 25 new homes, for example, but if somebody in 25 years wanted to put 25 new homes there with the deed restriction, it would be hard to do.”
The planning commission members said they understood they had exceeded their authority, but noted it had been at the suggestion of the developer.
Planning Commission Chair Rick McCullum noted that another provision requiring the solar panels to be removed if the solar energy farm ever shut down would stay in the list of conditions.
Several neighbors who had expressed concern before the preliminary approval said they would have likely had other questions if the deed restriction had not been offered. The developer, Salem Solar Energy LLC, had also agreed to work with the neighbors to develop acceptable screening for their homes from the hundreds of solar panels that would make up the project. That has not yet happened.
As a result, the planning commission will be asked at their next meeting to reconsider the special use. That could open up the process to start all over again.
Gruen questions if the developer may just move on to another site instead of going through a rehearing process.
The Real Estate Developer handling the project indicated at the last planning commission meeting that the facility would be unmanned, but the project would involve 50 to 100 construction jobs over a six to nine-month period.