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Local residents concerned about new solar project


January 08, 2014
As plans for a proposed photovoltaic solar farm near the intersection of Cole Grade Rd and Via Valencia take shape, neighboring residents are wary of the impact the industrial-looking complex will have on their view.

At the meeting of the Valley Center Design Review Board on Jan. 6, Steve Wragg of RBF Consulting and Chris Brown of Alchemy Consulting presented a tentative outline for the project, which would be constructed and maintained by North Light Power. Although the entire site will not be filled with solar panels, the proposed array would sit on 79 acres just east of Cole Grade Rd.

Currently, orange and tangerine groves sit on the property, and nearby residents are able to ride their horses through the grove. However, if the solar farm goes in, most of those trees would be replaced by dozens of arrays and the view would be far less appealing. The Design Review Board urged the consultants to install trees and shrubs in front of the fence to screen the unsightly panels.

"It needs to feel really beautiful. It can't feel like Lompoc," said Lael Montgomery, chair. In addition to a foliage screen in front of the fence, Montgomery also suggested that the fence around the solar farm be set back even further from the road to make it less obtrusive.

The proposed project would be located both north and south of Via Valencia, meaning that the main road leading to local residents' homes would run through the middle of the solar farm. Residents and the board were concerned that the farm would dramatically reduce the aesthetic appeal of arriving at their homes, making landscaping all the more important.

"If it's a minimal, whitewash effort so they come through looking like they're at the edge of a penal colony, I'd be ticked as hell," said Robson Splane, vice chair.

Wragg and Brown were also consultants on the recently-installed solar farm off of Vesper Rd, where panels are still visible from the road even though trees and shrubs have been planted. Brown promised that the screening on that site was far from complete, but the board remained concerned that the new project could turn out the same way.

Slat fencing and keeping some of the present grove trees were also discussed as options to block views of the solar farm.

Based on input from the Design Review Board and guidelines from the county, Brown and Wragg will put together a more comprehensive proposal in the coming weeks.

Also at the meeting, Jerry Gaughan presented updated renderings of the Hatfield Plaza, a proposed commercial development west of Valley Center Rd, near the intersection with Woods Valley Rd. Gaughan's project would include five new retail buildings, including one that could possibly be a fast-food restaurant. The board requested that Gaughan return with cross-sections of the project at next month's meeting.

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