While the Envision Jefferson 2035 Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 2015) discusses renewable energy, it does not include specific references or guidance for developing the commercial-scale generation facilities currently proposed. The Jefferson County zoning ordinance (as amended December 17, 2020, prior to the April 13 2021 amendment) had no provisions for permitting these facilities anywhere in the county.
In early 2020, a landowner in the Kabletown district petitioned the Jefferson County Planning Commission to amend the county’s zoning ordinance to allow for commercial-scale solar projects to be developed in Jefferson County. This initial request asked to allow solar facilities as a conditional use in the rural zoning district.
A Solar Amendment to the Zoning Ordinance – Adopted, Then Vacated
In response to the petition, the Planning Commission drafted a text amendment (ZTA19-03) to the county zoning ordinance. The Planning Commission sent its recommended text to the County Commission in July 2020. The recommended amendment text added the residential growth and other districts to the original rural district as areas to allow commercial-scale solar facilities. The recommended amendment text designated solar facilities as a principal permitted use (versus the originally-requested conditional use permit type).
In response to the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the Jefferson County Commission held two workshops and a public hearing on the proposed amendment during the summer and early fall of 2020. The County Commission voted to adopt the amendment to the zoning ordinance in October 2020. The County Commission later voted to vacate that approval in December 2020 and requested the Planning Commission to further review the proposed amendment.
Restarting The Process
The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the amendment at its regular meeting on February 9, 2021. On February 23, the Planninc Commission convened a special meeting to discuss the public comments and the amendment language. The agenda packet for this meeting which includes the proposed amendment text and comments submitted by the public is available at the Jefferson County website (link).
Following the discussion at the February 23, 2021 meeting, the Planning Commission requested its legal council to prepare an analysis of the compatibility of the proposed amendment with the County’s comprehensive plan. The Planning Commission reviewed this legal analysis on March 9, 2021 and voted to recommend the proposed amendment to the County Commission.
|Solar Text Amendment Resourses|
|Jefferson County Planning & Zoning Website (ZTA19-03)|
|Jefferson County Zoning Ordinance (amended April 13, 2021)|
|Amendment ZTA19-03 (draft text prior April 12, 2021 adoption)|
A Solar Amendment to the Zoning Ordinance — Adopted Again
On April 12, 2021, the Jefferson County Commission held a public hearing and then voted 3-1 to approve text amendment ZTA19-03 to the Jefferson County Zoning and Land Development Ordinance, to be effective on April 13, 2021. With this amendment, Jefferson County’s zoning ordinance allows large-scale solar energy facilities to process as a principal permitted use in the rural, residential growth, and other zoning districts. Prior to adoption the Jefferson County Commission voted to make a change to the amendment to allow reduced setbacks if screening vegetation is installed by the project developer.
Solar Amendment Rejected by Court
On August 16, 2021 Judge Debra McLaughlin, in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, issued a ruling that invalidated the text amendment ZTA1903 to the Jefferson County zoning ordinance.
A Settlement & The Process Restarts Again
On April 5, 2022, the County Commission announced a settlement in the court case and voted to amend a previously proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to allow for utility-scale solar projects with restrictions depending on the land use designation in the Comprehensive Plan. The Commission has begun the process of requesting the Planning Commission to draft a new zoning ordinance amendment for utility-scale solar that will be consistent with the recent amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.