Solar garden gets Woodbury council OK with condition

Body: 

Minnesota-based solar energy developer Greenmark received the go-ahead from the Woodbury City Council to build a 3-megawatt solar garden in a rural-residential stretch of the city.

The approval however, came with an added condition to shield the panels from the view of nearby houses.

The proposed facility would cover 17 acres of land off Military Road in Woodbury's southwestern corner, operating on a 25-year lease with the landowners.

The city attorney's office will draft language for the interim conditional use permit council approved Wednesday, Aug. 30 that would require Greenmark to work with neighbors and staff to reasonably ensure the 9-foot panels are not visible to neighbors.

Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens recommended the additional language after several neighbors complained that the panels would be an eyesore in the neighborhood.

Kevin Moquist told council members during public comments that he and his wife, Kay Moquist moved into their Woodlane Drive home 23 years ago expecting the city's comprehensive plan to prevent large developments like the solar garden.

The development, he said, would disturb the area's wildlife and detract from their property's aesthetic value.

"Due to the angling of our house to the (the property), the view from our master bedroom and another upstairs bedroom will be the view from upstairs," Moquist said. "... We don't anticipate we'll live on our property for 25 years to outlive the solar panels and we feel we're going to pay for the diminished value in our property."

T.D. Price, who also lives near the proposed solar garden, used a 10-foot PVC pole with markings at 1-foot increments to demonstrate the height of the trees and panels. Price concluded that the trees, thought taller than the panels, were spaced in a way that wouldn't block the panels from view.

He called Greenmark's previous assertions that the trees would hide the panels "bold-faced lies."

The company's current proposal includes planting more than 300 eight to 10-foot trees in two rows around the facility's perimeter.

Greenmark representative Denis Egan said similar concerns raised during a planning commission meeting earlier that week prompted engineers to include a third row of trees and shave off elevation from certain parts of the property.

Some neighbors worry that the oil pipeline running through the center of the property could pose safety risks.

"I'm afraid that what's going to happen— they've got that high voltage lines running across that gas line— if there should ever be an eruption of that gas line, you're going to have an explosion second to none," said David Burdeski, a 25-year resident of the area.

The rows depicted on Greenmark's plans for the solar garden part down the middle of the property, marking the pipeline's path. The plans include a 50-foot setback from the pipeline, which Community Development Director Dwight Picha said would sufficiently separate the volatile components from one another.

About as many residents spoke in favor of the project as those in opposition at the Aug. 30 meeting.

Roger Splinter, who previously served on the Advisory Commission and Parks and Natural Resources commission, said the project exemplifies "energy technology of the future."

"We all know of NIMBY— 'Not in My Back Yard,'" he said. "But you have to consider that, no matter what, it's going to be in someone's back yard, and in some cases someone's front yard. ... I strongly support this project as a further step to address the future sustainability of Woodbury from an environmental standpoint."

Jane Thiegs compared the project to the construction of Bailey Elementary School after her family moved into their home on Woodlane Drive.

"Our kids used to run around there and chase geese and we just thought it was really sad and that it would be an eyesore for us," she said. "People change, the world changes, and we changed. We love listening to those kids playing soccer over there, even at 7:30 on a Saturday morning."