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Courthouse renovation, solar moratorium meetings set

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors recently set up two meetings outside of its usual schedule, one to advance the Southampton County Courthouse renovation project and the other to possibly establish a one-year moratorium on receipt by the county of utility scale solar energy project applications.

Michael Johnson

At its Aug. 24 meeting, the board voted to continue the meeting to Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. at Camp Community College to continue work on the courthouse renovation project.

The project is a joint effort involving the county and the City of Franklin, and the two localities agreed on a budget placeholder of $16.8 million.

In a written report to the Board of Supervisors, Johnson noted that the lowest bid for the renovation project was $22.1 million, submitted by Heartland Construction, exceeding the placeholder amount by $5.3 million.

“Our design team is actively engaged with their management in a value engineering process to reduce the project cost as much as possible,” he stated. “We are scheduled to receive their report on Sept. 3 and have requested the board to continue tonight’s meeting to Tuesday, Sept. 7, to discuss next steps.”

The board agreed to hold the meeting at the college. Johnson stated Aug. 31 that it will be held in Room 119 of the main building. Air conditioning replacement prevented the Workforce Development Center from being available.

In a separate written report to the board, Johnson stated the board will be asked to continue the Sept. 7 meeting to Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. when supervisors will meet jointly with the county’s Planning Commission at the Southampton County Office Center for a public hearing on the proposed moratorium on applications for utility scale solar energy projects.

Explaining why that date has been chosen, Johnson wrote that in order to effectuate the moratorium as quickly as possible, county staff was suggesting that the board and the Planning Commission conduct a joint public hearing on the Planning Commission’s next regular meeting night in September — Sept. 9.

“Provided that the Planning Commission makes a recommendation on the draft ordinance after the public hearing is closed, the board may also take action on the ordinance that evening, with an effective date of the following day,” Johnson stated.

The Board of Supervisors authorized advertisement of the public hearing during its Aug. 24 meeting when it was presented with the first reading of the proposed moratorium ordinance.

The draft ordinance reads as follows: “Beginning Sept. 10, 2021, and terminating on Sept. 10, 2022, conditional use permit applications for utility scale solar energy projects shall not be filed with the zoning administrator or considered by the Planning Commission.

“However, the foregoing shall not apply to any conditional use permit application received and accepted as technically complete by the zoning administrator prior to Sept. 10, 2021, including receipt of all supplementary requirements set forth in Sec. 18-628, et seq.

“This ordinance shall become effective at 12:01 a.m., Sept. 10, 2021.”