ANDERSON — The approval of the proposed Lone Oak Solar Farm has been affirmed by a local court.
The Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals twice voted to approve the $110 million project that is expected to generate 120 megawatts of electricity in northern Madison County.
The Madison County Council voted earlier this year to deny a request for a tax abatement for project developer Invenergy. The company has since announced it is delaying the start of construction.
Madison Circuit Court Division 6 Judge Mark Dudley on Tuesday denied the request for judicial review by the opponents of the proposed project.
“The court’s role in this judicial review case is to determine whether there existed a reasonable evidentiary basis for the BZA’s decision,” Dudley wrote. “The court is to presume that the BZA’s decision is correct, and the court is directed to give weight to the decision of the BZA due to its experience and expertise in this given area.”
The decision states that to overturn the BZA decision, the court must find that it was arbitrary, contrary to the law and did not follow the procedures.
“The court’s ruling merely determines that Lone Oak presented evidence that was more than speculation and that the BZA’s reliance on it was proper and not arbitrary or capricious,” Dudley wrote.
The court decision addressed several issues raised by the opponents of the project, including impact on property values and the ability of former BZA member Mary Jo Baker to vote to approve a special exception for the project and two variances.
Dudley’s ruling indicated that Invenergy presented an impact study on property values done by consulting firm MaRous & Company and the staff report that indicated there would be no impact on property values.
“Petitioners (opponents) have presented no argument or evidence that the Staff Report and the Cohn Reznick study on which it relies, and which also were submitted as evidence, are somehow unreliable,” Dudley wrote. “Instead at the hearing, Petitioners simply took the position the Staff Report is not evidence on which the BZA may rely.”
Dudley said that just considering the Staff Report is competent evidence of the BZA’s finding that the project would not negatively impact property values.
Baker recused herself from voting on the original request for a special exception because of an alleged conflict of interest.
The court ruling states the only evidence of Baker’s conflict of interest was that she knew people both for and against the project.
“There is no evidence in the record that Mary Jo Baker was biased against petitioners or that she had a direct or indirect financial interest in the Project,” Dudley wrote.
Opponents point to the county’s comprehensive plan statement of the desire to maintain farmland and not be targeted for growth.
The initial 850-acre special use was approved in May 2019, which included a 500-foot setback from non-participating property owners and a second for an additional 350 acres.