Daily Egyptian

Carbondale Planning and Zoning Commission delays discussion of contamination on proposed solar farm site to Oct. 3

By Claire Cowley, Staff Reporter

The Carbondale Planning and Zoning Commission held a meeting on Sept. 5 at Carbondale City Hall discussing the development of Brightfields’ solar array site in the Northeast district of Carbondale. The discussion of contamination of the soil on the site was delayed to Oct. 3.

The development of a solar farm site in a general agricultural zoning district is under consideration for the location at 1555 N. Marion Street, Travis Taylor, a planning commission member, said.

Taylor said the letters regarding this request were sent out to residents and community leaders of the Northeast district on Aug. 23.

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Beau Henson, a planning commission member, said he received complex scientific information in an email from the corporate source of Beazer Inc. and the city of Carbondale, who currently owns the land of the proposed solar farm site.

Henson said he believed one day prior some commission members didn’t receive this email at all, so commission members had incomplete information.

“I for one, was not able to read this on short notice and I suspect others have not read it,” Henson said.

Taylor said these documents were not readily made available to him until Sept. 4.

“[These] documents were a variety of fact sheets that the EPA had produced regarding the variety of amounts of testing that was done since 2004,” Taylor said.  

Henson made the motion to delay the decision due to not all commission members having read the email.

“Members of the Northeast neighborhood had asked for a one month delay and I found that reasonable,” Henson said.

During this city hall meeting, there was an armed police officer.

“[Commission members] heard I was uncomfortable with the presence of an armed guard inside that room,” Henson said.  

Henson also said secondly, members of the public had issues about the forum.

“There was a four-minute cap that was potentially a mechanism to quiet the opinions of the people that came that night,” Henson said.

Despite these more prescriptive guidelines, a governmental institution may still not restrict expression at a limited forum unless that restriction is necessary to further a compelling governmental interest, according to the First Amendment Center’s website.

Sandy Litecky, a member of the planning commission, said the four-minute cap on each public comment was to limit the length of the meeting.

Litecky said the meeting was formal and legal.

“The city planning commission will hear questions or concerns having to do with the plan,” Litecky said.

Litecky also said this cap was realized and discussed so everyone at the hearing could get a turn to speak because the commission and community have so many people.

“We want to give everyone a chance to speak,” Litecky said.

Litecky also said the commission has found in the past is meeting go on three or four hours, a lot of people will not get their chance to speak and ask questions.

Henson said they all have to work together to create a successful solution for both parties.

“Let me be clear about the project, it’s a great project,” Henson said.

Henson said the appropriate use of this land if this land is going to be developed is great, but the city of Carbondale cannot ask this neighborhood to simply sit back and sacrifice again on claims of the public good coming from the city and corporations.

“The Northeast neighborhood has to be involved, they have to be involved on their own terms,” Henson said. “If there’s anything I can suggest to both sides of this controversy is it is an opportunity to get to work and get to know your neighbors.”

George Sheffer, another planning commission member, said the commission has a lot of people who want to say something.

“If we don’t postpone this, how many of them who had things to speak on and then they don’t get to speak?” Sheffer said.   

Litecky agreed to defer action on the issue of project site contamination and to postpone discussion.

“We have two things, a very legitimate and good solar energy development contract and the need to address long-term racial divides between the Northeast neighborhood and the rest of Carbondale,” Henson said.

Henson said he hopes that happens Oct. 3.  

The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 3 at Carbondale City Hall at 6 p.m.

Staff reporter Claire Cowley can be reached at [email protected].

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