Saturday, September 22, 2018
  • Bay Buzz
  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pasco rejects neighbors’ appeal of Tampa Electric Co.’s solar farm near Dade City

DADE CITY – Pasco Commissioners Tuesday approved Tampa Electric Co.'s plans for a solar farm in the rural northeast Pasco, saying state law didn't allow them to prohibit solar energy collectors.

"Our hands are tied," said Commissioner Jack Mariano.

The unanimous vote came at the conclusion of a nearly three-hour hearing in which neighbors appealed an earlier Planning Commission decision allowing the solar farm.

Attorneys had argued the April 9 Planning Commission decision was illegal and denied due process to neighboring residents.

"There's no fundamental fairness in this process," said attorney Gordon Schiff. He sought unsuccessfully to disqualify Commissioner Ron Oakley from participating in the appeal, saying his comments published in advance of the hearing indicated he favored the project.

Schiff's clients, Gordon and Kathleen Comer, owners of the 243-acre Platt Road Farms-78 LLC, objected to the decision permitting Tampa Electric to build the 55-megawatt system in Blanton. The company wants to put approximately 470,000 solar panels — each measuring about two feet across and four feet deep — on 205 of the 350 acres of pasture land the utility is acquiring along Blanton Road.

That Planning Commission decision "approved the industrialization of 350 acres" guaranteed rural scenic scenic protections in the county's comprehensive land use plan, argued attorney Rena Frazier, who represented another objector, Sandra Noble of Zia Ridge Lane.

The appeal hearing, before a crowded commission chambers at the Historic County Courthouse in Dade City,   continued what has been a long-running debate since Tampa Electric revealed plans for the solar plant in March.  State Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and his wife, Kathy, own 252 acres that will be sold to the utility for the project.

Residents complained the solar farm in their neighborhood will be unsightly and will violate the county's comprehensive plan that provides specific protections for their rural area's rolling hills and scenic vistas.

Commissioners had heard many of the arguments previously. In June, they approved a new ordinance to guide where future solar farms could be located in the county.

At the time, Schiff called the ordinance an "attempt to bootstrap the matter to prior staff interpretations of the (land development code), which are not legally supportable.''

Noble also has filed an appeal to county approval of that ordinance.

The county said the ordinance was needed because prior zoning rules did not mention solar plants. The Tampa Electric application for its Mountain View Solar project relied on a county staff statement that such solar farms are allowable in agricultural areas with a special exception permit.

Opponents saiid solar energy plants should be considered heavy industry not appropriate for land designated for farming or other less-intensive uses.

The plant is part of Tampa Electric's plan to install 6 million solar panels in 10 sites over the next three years. The Pasco project represents a $75 million investment in solar energy,  Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs has said. Tuesday, she said the company plans to begin applying for the necessary permits and hopes to have the facility operating before the end of next year.

Frazer declined comment when asked if her client would challenge the county decision in circuit court.

Comments
‘Strippers, Cigars and Gasparilla’: Topher Morrison wants to rebrand Tampa

‘Strippers, Cigars and Gasparilla’: Topher Morrison wants to rebrand Tampa

No one can accuse Topher Morrison of not having ideas.The branding consultant turned political candidate has lots of them. Make Tampa known for its rooftop scene? Yes, and: hold a contest to see who can build an elevator that wraps around a building ...
Published: 09/21/18
Hillsborough commission candidates still dancing on sales tax for transportation

Hillsborough commission candidates still dancing on sales tax for transportation

In a Seminole Heights forum last week, only one of four county commission candidates, Kimberly Overman, responded directly to a question about whether they back a proposal for a one-cent sales tax increase for transportation improvements – she'...
Published: 09/21/18
Pinellas commission candidate Amy Kedron loses support from council member and commissioner

Pinellas commission candidate Amy Kedron loses support from council member and commissioner

Pinellas County Commission candidate Amy Kedron has lost a key endorsement from one of the few elected officials who publicly supported her campaign.St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll said she pulled her endorsement after Kedron told th...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/21/18
Capin on Buckhorn and Ulele: ‘If it was his bust, he’d light it up.’

Capin on Buckhorn and Ulele: ‘If it was his bust, he’d light it up.’

Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin blasted Mayor Bob Buckhorn for his administration's decision to remove a bronze bust of Ulele, a mythical Indian princess, from the city's Riverwalk this week.Capin, who has clashed with the mayor over the...
Published: 09/20/18
Tampa City Council approves liquour and rezoning for Stovall House making it private club

Tampa City Council approves liquour and rezoning for Stovall House making it private club

It took nearly 13 hours over three weeks, but developer Blake Casper won City Council approval to convert the historic Stovall House on Bayshore Boulevard to a private club.On Thursday, council members listened to nearly six hours of testimony on the...
Published: 09/20/18
Buckhorn says Tampa City Council playing politics with budget

Buckhorn says Tampa City Council playing politics with budget

Mayor Bob Buckhorn's hot take from watching Monday's City Council budget hearing?"I think, unfortunately, reality met election year politics," said the mayor on Tuesday.The City Council voted unanimously to delay final approval of the city's more tha...
Published: 09/18/18
Updated: 09/19/18
DeSantis’s school visit is “not a campaign stop,” Hillsborough district says

DeSantis’s school visit is “not a campaign stop,” Hillsborough district says

Social media this morning was abuzz with questions about gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis's planned 2 p.m. visit to Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy, a public middle school in Hillsborough County.Educators are asking: Wouldn't this be a violatio...
Published: 09/18/18
Bronze bust of Princess Ulele hauled away before dawn from Tampa Riverwalk

Bronze bust of Princess Ulele hauled away before dawn from Tampa Riverwalk

TAMPA — With only a moving crew as witnesses, an 1,800 pound bronze bust of Native American Princess Ulele was hoisted up and hauled away before dawn Tuesday under orders from the city of Tampa.The sculpture was installed in December on ci...
Published: 09/18/18
Tampa City Council rejects Buckhorn budget over health care costs

Tampa City Council rejects Buckhorn budget over health care costs

TAMPA — The city's $1 billion-plus city budget was put on hold Monday evening by a City Council determined to strike a better deal for Tampa employees on health care costs.After a sometimes tense 2 ½ hour hearing, the City Council delayed ...
Published: 09/17/18
Updated: 09/18/18
Pinellas commission will let St. Petersburg use some tax dollars to develop Trop site

Pinellas commission will let St. Petersburg use some tax dollars to develop Trop site

The Pinellas County Commission agreed last week to let St. Petersburg direct about $115 million in tax dollars to help redevelop 86 acres around Tropicana Field, regardless if the Rays move to Tampa or not.With a 5-1 vote, the commission approved May...
Published: 09/17/18