NEWBERRY ‒ While some residents are complaining about a proposed solar farm in Newbery, the City Commission is reconsidering an ordinance that addresses solar farms in the City’s agricultural zoning districts, which was passed in March 2019. Residents voiced their concerns to the City Commission at the Oct. 23 City Commission meeting
Solar development company Florida Renewable Partners (FRP) recently acquired agricultural property in Newberry that it plans to develop as a solar farm. The 760-acre property is located in southwest Newberry, west of County Road 337 and south of Southwest 30th Avenue.
FRP plans construction of a solar farm in 2027, after necessary upgrades to the transmission system they propose to connect to have been completed by Duke Energy. They anticipate submission of an application for site and development plan consideration in 2026.
FRP was not present at the Oct. 23 City Commission meeting, but is planning to present information about solar farm developments at the Nov. 27 City Commission meeting.
In August, residents in the vicinity of the proposed solar farm sent a letter to the City expressing several concerns about the development and identifying suggested conditions for solar farm developments, including the proposed FRP project. Newberry Planning and Economic Development Director Bryan Thomas passed along resident complaints outlined in the letter to the company representatives and presented their response to some of the issues brought up by the neighboring citizens.
Of major concern was the size of the buffer, placement and opacity of a vegetative buffer to hide the solar farm from residents’ view, noise from an inverter and reduced property values.
Since the property was purchased prior to the City of Newberry voting on a solar ordinance, the City is taking the position that FRP has been grandfathered in. Citizens disagreed since FRP hasn’t submitted an application to the City of Newberry at this time.
Although no final decision was made on this issue, Florida Statutes Sect. 70.001 Private property rights protection provides for the Bert J. Harris, Jr. Property Rights Protection Act that affords property owners remedies against government entities that reduce the value of privately owned real property through regulatory decisions. The law provides relief for a landowner when State or local government seeks to restrict certain existing or future uses of land, and by doing so diminishes the fair market value of that land
One resident suggested that Alachua County’s regulations require a 75-foot setback. Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said he wants to make sure changes to the City’s existing ordinance would not be for one solar company only, but would be applicable to all solar farm applications.
While no formal action was taken by the Newberry City commission, the City Attorney will research what is usual and customary in other Florida cities and counties prior to considering any changes.
Following a quasi-judicial public hearing, Commissioners unanimously approved a request by CHW Professional Consultants, agent, for Hawley Family Holdings, LLC, owner, for approval of a replat on property known as Barrington subdivision. The replat was for 39.8 +/- acres of non-contiguous land located at the northwest corner of Southwest 15th Avenue and Southwest 170th Street. The Barrington plat was originally approved on June 27, 2022.
The land is zoned Agricultural. The replat of Lots 8 - 11 addresses changes in the interior access road which were the result of a review by the Suwannee River Water Management District. The lots remain relatively in the same area. Lot 11 is reduced to 1.995 acres, which is below the minimum required lot area of two acres. However, the difference in area proposed and required is minor and causes no negative impacts to property in the immediate area.
Lot 23, approximately 29 acres in area, is being subdivided to create two new lots for a total of 25 total lots within the Barrington subdivision. Resolution 2022-35 permits the division of Lot 23 up to two times. The proposed Lots 23 - 25 all meet the minimum area requirements established in the original resolution.
Although the replat was approved, the approval carried a condition. CHW is to work with the City Fire Chief and Planning Department to work out a satisfactory way for fire trucks to be turned around now that the circular drive, which was part of the original access road, has been modified.
Contract with ASO
Commissioners unanimously agreed to authorize the city manager to continue an agreement with Alachua County Sheriff Emery Gainey for enhanced law enforcement services to the City. The original contract with Sheriff Clovis Watson expired when Watson resigned. City Manager Mike New and Gainey agreed to continue the contract negotiated with Watson on June 14, 2021, until the original end date of Sept. 30, 2025.
Lease Agreement for Cell Service
Following a presentation by Assistant City Manager/Public Works and Utilities Director Jamie Jones Commissioners unanimously voted to authorize the city manager to execute a lease agreement with Cellco Partnership (d/b/a Verizon Wireless) for cellular antenna array space on elevated water tower two, located at 24815 NW 16 Ave. (Newberry Easton Sports Complex).
Jones said the agreement addresses all necessary items (i.e., term, insurance, permitting, maintenance, etc.). The yearly compensation for the use of the water tower for the antenna array is $33,000, with an annual increase of two percent every year for the term of the lease, which is for a five-year period with the possibility of lease extensions.
The installation of the antenna is expected to extend cell service to those “dead spots” in the area while also diversifying the City’s revenue stream. Income from the lease agreement has already been incorporated into the budget for the City’s Water Department, said Jones.
Jones addressed the Commission to report that a survey had been conducted on a 2.6-mile segment of Southwest 30th Avenue between U.S. 27/41 and Southwest 202nd Street. Although he originally told the Commission that the road needs to be a minimum of 60 feet wide to pave it and transition it into a collector street, the City’s Land Development Regulations require that roads constructed on a section line must have a minimum of 80 feet of right of way.
“The survey of this road segment has been completed,” said Jones, “which identifies 40 feet north/40 feet south of the section line, as well as the existing area maintained/used as a driving surface within this 80 ft. path. The existing area maintained/used as a driving surface is not centered on the section line consistently. In some cases, the existing area maintained/used as a driving surface is totally north of the section line and in some cases, it is totally south of the section line.”
The surveyor has identified this on a map as well as prepared a list of property owners and acreage necessary to establish a consistent 40-foot right-of-way both north and south of the section line.
Jones said there are 36 property owners along that right-of-way, some of which are willing to provide part of their land in exchange for the City eventually paving the roadway. However, some property owners are not willing to provide the City with a right-of-way in exchange for a paved road.
Jones said the next step is that CHW will need to create a legal description of the properties people are willing to donate to the project so that the property can eventually be conveyed to the City. The total acreage that needs to be obtained is 17.63 acres. Several of those properties have less than one acre they will be donating. He said the City could initially chip seal the road and eventually pave the road when funds are available to do so.
Local Business Impact
Commissioners approved Ordinance 2023-31 on second reading, which creates a local business impact estimate ordinance in compliance with Florida Statutes. If enacted on second reading, this ordinance will require municipalities to prepare business impact estimates prior to adopting ordinances that impact business owners.
This ordinance will become effective retroactively as of Oct. 1 of this year and is intended to make local government more transparent. It requires local government to prepare and publish impact statements on ordinances prior to their adoption. The law increases staff’s level of effort in preparing these impact statements, which may require outside consultants.
Approval of this ordinance enables the City to hire a consultant and to charge for the expense, if someone challenges an action.
The law also provides a procedure to challenge ordinances that are adopted by local government, while also setting challenge and waiting periods. This process is new and there has been no precedent set to guide municipalities at this time.
Other City Business
City Manager New declared Oct. 31, 2023 as Halloween in Newberry beginning at sunset. He also mentioned that City Hall would be closed on Thursday, Nov. 9, in honor of Veterans Day. In response to compliments about the new Welcome to Newberry sign, New indicated that landscaping would be coming soon.
Marlowe mentioned that Kathy Thomas was named Citizen of the Year during the Annual Awards Banquet held by the Newberry Chamber of Commerce.
The next Newberry City Commission meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 13.
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