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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ The High Springs City Commission has approved the site plan for Duke Energy’s proposed solar facility. In June 2021, Duke Energy announced plans to build a solar power plant on 700 acres in High Springs. At that time, company officials said that once operational, the 74.9-MW facility will consist of approximately 216,000 single-axis tracking solar panels and the plant will be capable of effectively producing enough electricity to power approximately 23,000 average-sized homes at peak production.

At the June 23, 2022 City Commission meeting, CHW’s Gerry Dedenbach represented Duke Energy to obtain approval for the solar power plant facility to be located on 735 +/- acres of property in the southwestern quadrant of High Springs.

Dedenbach presented an in-depth, step-by-step assessment of Duke’s plan listing each plan review and approval that had been obtained during the process leading up to a request that would result in a zoning change of the property and place it under the City’s regulations rather than the County. As part of that review process the Planning Board also reviewed the application and unanimously recommended approval to the City Commission.

City Manager Ashley Stathatos reported that the site plan had been reviewed by the City Engineer and the site plan review committee. She said the plan has been found to be safely planned and that it meets all applicable City regulations.

The Commission approved on first reading 4-0 an ordinance amending the text of the City’s Land Development Code creating the AG Agriculture Zoning District. Commissioner Ross Ambrose abstained from voting as his company will likely be involved in the construction aspect of the solar array facility.

An additional ordinance also impacting the Duke Energy property was approved on first reading to amend the Future Land Use Plan Map and change the Land Use Classification from County Rural/Agriculture to City Agriculture on the 735 +/- acres south of Northwest 174th Avenue. To the north, south and west of the property is County Rural/Agriculture and to the east of the property is City Rural Residential.

Transitioning from County AG to City AG is a compatible land use change. The AG District is intended to depict those areas of the City that are characterized as rural/agriculture in nature. “This is a zoning district referenced in the Comprehensive Plan and, as such, needs to be created,” said Stathatos.

As a large-scale amendment to the City’s Comprehensive Plan, the proposed ordinance must be forwarded to the state of Florida for review. If no comments are received by the state agencies within 31 days, the ordinance will be considered for second reading by the City Commission.

An additional ordinance to amend the Official Zoning Map and rezone the 735 +/- acres of Duke Energy tax parcels from County Agricultural to City Agriculture was also approved on first reading, but is contingent on state and City approval of the previous ordinance.

To the north, south and west of the property is County Agricultural and to the east of the property is City R-1. Duke Energy’s proposed solar power facility is allowed by right in County and in the City’s AG. Rezoning the property will put it under City regulations rather than County regulations.

By state statute the City may enforce buffer and landscape requirements for solar facilities, but that those requirements may not exceed the requirements for similar uses in agriculture land use and zoning categories.

“Since the City does not have another solar facility,” she said, “staff researched a variety of ordinances from other cities. The buffers and landscaping in this site plan exceeded the requirements in other city ordinances.”

Dedenbach said there is a 150-foot setback around the perimeter of the facility and a 50-foot vegetative buffer as well. Near the residential neighborhood to the east, there is a 100-foot vegetative buffer.

As part of citizen comments on the issue, a list of suggested landscaping items was produced by Janet Evans. Todd Yoho said he had met with project manager Cory Graham, and he seemed agreeable to plant in such a way as to block the solar panels.

Dedenbach emphasized that the site plan is an enforceable document and Stathatos stressed that City staff would follow up to ensure that the plans were enforced.

Vanessa Goff of Duke Energy said they would conduct a preconstruction site visit and would give citizens more say as to the buffering plants used.

Commissioner Linda Jones made a motion to approve the site plan with Vice Mayor Gloria James seconding the motion. The motion was approved 3-1 with Commissioner Katherine Weitz casting the dissenting vote saying she wanted more detailed information. Commissioner Ambrose abstained from voting.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for July 14 at 6:30 p.m.

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