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Lebanon judge backs vote against solar project

A Lebanon County judge has sided with a North Annville Township decision shooting down developers hoping to plant a roughly 858-acre solar farm in the rural municipality west of Lebanon city.

  • The ruling, handed down last week, upholds a 2022 vote by North Annville supervisors to deny a conditional use permit to Lebanon Solar I LLC, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based solar developer Enel North America.
  • The company planned to erect solar panels on 12 lots zoned for agricultural use but on which solar panels are allowed as a conditional use.
  • Numerous residents opposed the project on aesthetic and other grounds.
  • The 40-page decision by Judge Bradford Charles represents a victory for the township, said its solicitor, Paul Bametzreider of law firm Barley Snyder.
  • However, it came on relatively limited grounds.

How limited: Whether it was enough for Lebanon Solar to promise compliance with stormwater and bonding requirements laid out in township ordinances.

  • The developer had argued that the promise sufficed and that greater details would be forthcoming as it went through the land-development process, according to the ruling.
  • Citing previous court decisions, Judge Charles disagreed and said Lebanon Solar could have filled in some of the blanks, including whether the developer had been in touch with any bonding companies or whether it had any previous experience with stormwater management.
  • “While we certainly understand that details could not be presented at a conditional use hearing, mere promises were not enough,” Judge Charles wrote in a 40-page ruling.

Were there other issues: Yes.

  • One was whether Lebanon Solar could stitch together a dozen separate lots for the purpose of complying with zoning ordinances on setbacks, buffering from neighbors and other issues.
  • The township wanted to treat each lot separately when applying its conditions. 
  • The company said they should be treated as one, and the judge agreed.

What’s next: Parties have 30 days to appeal the decision.

  • At least one plans to do so.
  • That would be township resident Grady Summers, who intervened in the case and was represented by Harrisburg-based land-use attorney Bill Cluck.
  • Cluck said the case should have been dismissed on procedural grounds related to filing deadlines rather than being decided on substantive grounds.
  • A spokesperson for Enel declined to comment.

A Lebanon County judge has sided with a North Annville Township decision shooting down developers hoping to plant a roughly 858-acre solar farm in the rural municipality west of Lebanon city.

  • The ruling, handed down last week, upholds a 2022 vote by North Annville supervisors to deny a conditional use permit to Lebanon Solar I LLC, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based solar developer Enel North America.
  • The company planned to erect solar panels on 12 lots zoned for agricultural use but on which solar panels are allowed as a conditional use.
  • Numerous residents opposed the project on aesthetic and other grounds.
  • The 40-page decision by Judge Bradford Charles represents a victory for the township, said its solicitor, Paul Bametzreider of law firm Barley Snyder.
  • However, it came on relatively limited grounds.

How limited: Whether it was enough for Lebanon Solar to promise compliance with stormwater and bonding requirements laid out in township ordinances.

  • The developer had argued that the promise sufficed and that greater details would be forthcoming as it went through the land-development process, according to the ruling.
  • Citing previous court decisions, Judge Charles disagreed and said Lebanon Solar could have filled in some of the blanks, including whether the developer had been in touch with any bonding companies or whether it had any previous experience with stormwater management.
  • “While we certainly understand that details could not be presented at a conditional use hearing, mere promises were not enough,” Judge Charles wrote in a 40-page ruling.

Were there other issues: Yes.

  • One was whether Lebanon Solar could stitch together a dozen separate lots for the purpose of complying with zoning ordinances on setbacks, buffering from neighbors and other issues.
  • The township wanted to treat each lot separately when applying its conditions. 
  • The company said they should be treated as one, and the judge agreed.

What’s next: Parties have 30 days to appeal the decision.

  • At least one plans to do so.
  • That would be township resident Grady Summers, who intervened in the case and was represented by Harrisburg-based land-use attorney Bill Cluck.
  • Cluck said the case should have been dismissed on procedural grounds related to filing deadlines rather than being decided on substantive grounds.
  • A spokesperson for Enel declined to comment.

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