WINCHESTER — Conditional-use permits for a large solar power plant near Stephens City and a 199-foot-tall telecommunications tower in western Frederick County were unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday night.

Richmond-based Urban Grid, representing Foxglove Solar LLC of Stevensville, Maryland, plans to spend about $101 million to develop the solar facility on approximately 669 acres in the vicinity of Hites, Marlboro, Klines Mill, Clark and Vaucluse roads in the Back Creek District.

Urban Grid Project Development Manager Rob Propes previously said the plant will generate more than 140 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, enough to power more than 11,500 homes.

According to CUP application documents, ground-mounted solar panels and related equipment, access roads, security fencing and landscaping are to be installed on about 370 acres of the property. Landowners intend to lease the property to Urban Grid. Among the property owners are the Brumback family, who own and operate Woodbine Farms in Frederick County and a farm market near Strasburg.

Layne Link addressed the board on behalf of Woodbine Farms and her father, Harman Brumback, about their objective in collaborating with Urban Grid on the construction of a solar plant.

“The construction of the solar facility will help our farm continue to thrive as a farming business, a business that has represented the backbone of this area,” Link said. “Unfortunately, over the course of the last five years, we have seen a steady decline in market prices in all commodities. We do not see these prices improving in the foreseeable future. ... We worry that with market prices not improving, the cost of living increasing and the new uncertainty created by the pandemic, we would have to downsize by selling land to offset these factors. Through thoughtful review of our options, we believe that solar farms will be the one least adverse to our community.”

Link said that by leasing the property, the Brumbacks will be able to retain ownership of the land. She said the solar facility will keep the land from being developed for housing.

“A solar farm will be our best option at maintaining the peacefulness and integrity of the natural landscape,” Link said.

Conditions for the permit include ensuring that buffers and screening are provided around the perimeter of the project for the life of the project, up to 35 years.

Access to the site shall be limited to entrances from Marlboro Road (Route 631), Clark Road (Route 638), Klines Mill Road (Route 633) and Vaucluse Road (Route 638).

Construction of the solar facility is expected to start next year and be completed in early 2022. Once built, it will be the first utility-scale solar power generating in the county.

Also Wednesday, the supervisors granted a CUP for AT&T/Cingular Wireless to construct a 199-foot-tall monopole telecommunications tower to improve cellphone and internet service.

The monopole — a tall, steel pole on which antennas are mounted — is to be constructed at 141 Fairview Road in Gore and is meant to improve service in the Gore and Cross Junction areas of the county, toward Capon Bridge, West Virginia. Doug Sampson, legal counsel for AT&T, noted that the need for improved cellphone and internet has increased in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to point out briefly that the need for wireless and broadband service has never been more prevalent as millions of people across the country are teleworking, virtual learning, virtual worshiping, having telehealth doctor’s visits and just keeping in touch with family and friends,” Sampson said. “In fact, over the past three months At&T has seen a 20% increase across its network nationwide in usage for both cellular and broadband.”

Gainesboro District Supervisor J. Douglas McCarthy said he “wholeheartedly” encouraged the supervisors to approve the permit.

“I’ve had no negative feedback at all from residents,” McCarthy said. “This is going to really help that area of the county that has almost no service. This will expand coverage in that area. I think this is one of the top priorities that this board needs to be looking at moving forward.”

At the suggestion of Shawnee District Supervisor Gene Fisher, Sampson agreed to add a condition to the permit stating that there will be air traffic safety lights added to the monopole.

In other business, the board unanimously agreed to rezone about 12.6 acres at 220 Imboden Drive in the Baker Lane Industrial Park from M1 Light Industrial to M2 Industrial General to accommodate recycling operations. Greenway Engineering Inc. submitted the application on behalf of RCS Investments LLC.

The rezoning enables an approximately 30,000-square-foot building to be built for internal storage and processing of clean, collected recyclable materials..

“This facility has the possibility to reduce the fill rate of our landfill,” said Back Creek District Supervisor Shawn Graber. “It could possibly create the possibility to partner with a local business. It also has significant potential to reduce the cost to the county as far as hauling fees for recycling. I think this is a win-win for all involved.”

Attending the meeting at the County Administration Building 107 N. Kent St. were board Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. and board members J. Douglas McCarthy, Judith McCann-Slaughter, Gene Fisher, Bob Wells, Blaine Dunn and Shawn Graber.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

(2) comments

Joe Crane

Just wondering why the FCBoS did not approve Winchester Wireless request for a tower but issued a permit to AT&T. Almost appears someone's pockets are being lined by big corp. Am I missing something?

jhe020

great point. also loved the fact that before the covid crisis one of the members mentioned that if school children needed internet in the rural area of the county, the kids could go sit in their school's parking lot. hopefully everyone now understands how vital internet access is to everyone and how you can fall behind without it.

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