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Council moves to include large solar projects

The Connell City Council has been all over the board when it came to the topic of solar projects. At first they were opposed, expressing the negative effects. Then moved to let staff look into their feasibility. Once the planning commission’s recommendation came before them, they moved in favor but then, after further discussions, changed direction, once again, asking to reword the ordinance to not allow large scale solar within city limits.

At their March 6 council meeting, a public hearing on the subject was held where the new ordinance was presented and further public comment taken.

Nichole Stikney, AHBL (the city’s contracted land use managers) presented the staff report highlighting the changes to the ordinance. A letter from a project developer interested in Connell was received earlier Monday and presented to council.

The letter counteracted the new ordinance listing several benefits to the local community and Washington State. These included an increase to the local tax base, up to 50 jobs during construction, opportunities for Franklin PUD, and opportunity for a private landowner to develop their property.

Public comment was also received by Rich Sargent, Franklin PUD power manager. Sargent stated, “the pud can certainly benefit from the project as can your city.” he added the site being considered meets a lot of requirements, their sub station is nearby, and will help bring local alternative power to our area, which assists in meeting state requirements for the PUD.

Stikney stated, because someone has shown interest, the city is looking at laying the groundwork for land use within the city on the subject. The next step is to craft development regulations then proceed with a decision on a project if one is submitted.

Council member Pat Barrera expressed she wished the letter had been received months ago, it addressed many of her concerns. She proceeded to move to approve Ordinance No. 1028-2023 from last month, allowing large scale solar projects within the city. The motion was seconded by KaTrina Kunkel. The motion was unanimously approved.

Ordinance No. 1029-2023 was also approved, allowing a zoning change to the city’s comprehensive plan for the new ambulance station.

A moratorium on solar projects was enacted in Sept. 2022 for six months. Stikney suggested approval of an extended moratorium to allow time to get the rest of the work done, and look at zoning regulations. Kunkel moved, John White seconded and the motion was passed unanimously to continue the moratorium.

Stikney also brought up a request that was brought to the city on “zero lot lines”. Explaining these as dual units on a single lot with more than one owner. Stikney stated these provide more ways to address the housing affordability crisis. She said as preferences are changing, economics are also changing things, and that this is “a time for the city to look at different types of development than what you’ve typically seen.” Once again the council was divided as Kunkel and Harper agreed to look into it, while Barrera and Joe Escalera both felt there was a lot of building going on right now and they should wait. White agreed, stating he’d table it 10 years, at least. 

In citizen comment,  Katherine Trowbridge called the council out as she’s hearing the city is behind on housing and they just tabled this planning opportunity. Peggy Ferrell expressed her daughter lives in one of these housing developments in the Tri-Cities and it is very nice, however, in considering developments it’s important to keep roads standard sized with more cars parking on the street. 

Colclasure spoke about how more citizens are wanting to know what’s going on and participate. He said, “Before you can correct the negative and bad stuff, you have to address the good stuff” as he proceeded to highlight Stikeny’s efforts among other things.

The next council meeting will be held on Monday, March 20 at 6pm.  

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