The Alachua County Commission voted in a meeting Tuesday to approve a special exception that would allow solar panels on a parcel of land in Paynes Prairie.
The plan for the land, named Prairie View Solar Park, is to construct a 1.5-megawatt ground-mounted solar panel system that would feed directly into the existing Gainesville Regional Utilities grid.
The proposal sets aside about 9 acres located in the 2300 block of Southwest 63rd Avenue. However, the company constructing the panels, Sybac Solar, plans to use only about a 5-acre fenced area.
While the motion was recommended for approval at a previous meeting, it faced opposition by commissioners and the community.
Residents previously expressed concerns including noise and negative visual effects related to the project.
In response to the concerns, the commission proposed buffer zones at the north and east boundaries of the plot.
Susan Baird, a city commissioner, who cast the only dissenting vote, said she appreciated the steps being taken to protect the land and ease complaints, but she said she wouldn’t vote in favor of the motion because other locations are available for the project.
“Aren’t there enough rooftops where we could find a place for the panels?” she said. “It seems like we are leaving a large footprint on a beautiful piece of land when there are other places already established.”
John S. Humphrey, a 48-year-old wildlife biologist and resident of the area where the solar panels will be built, felt that the panels should be placed elsewhere.
“I am fully supportive of solar energy,” Humphrey said. “But it’s not institutional or public utility. It’s the wrong place and the wrong time.”
All parties involved in the project, including Gary Dounson & Associates, Prairie View Trust, Friends of Paynes Prairie, GRU and Sybac Solar, confirmed that the project is only temporary.
The proposed plan would allow solar panels on the land for 20 years.
After that, the panels would be removed, and the land would be donated to the organization Friends of Paynes Prairie.
Star Tarrant, the current president of Friends of Paynes Prairie, said she supports the project.
During a public comment segment, she said that after moving to Gainesville in 1997 from a metropolitan area, she began to love how green the city was, and she said project will help maintain the atmosphere.
“I love the prairie and support the long-term conservation of it,” Tarrant said, noting the land would likely be used for residential housing otherwise.
A county sign on Southwest 63rd Avenue informs passers-by of the potential future use for part of Paynes Prairie.