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After reading Barry Eberling’s article about the solar power facility proposed for 10 Palm Drive in Coombsville, we wanted to raise several issues not addressed in the article (“Two proposed Napa County solar projects would power 2,000 homes,” July 12).

A few months ago, we were informed that a developer had requested a Use Permit to construct a commercial-scale solar power facility in Coombsville.

A commercial-scale solar power generation facility is not suitable for an Agricultural Watershed (AW) district and the Coombsville American Viticultural Area (AVA). This is an example of a good idea, placed in the wrong location.

Several acres of solar panels and power stations do not belong in AW and AVA district, and will create significant negative impact on the aesthetic, scenic and environmental qualities of the area, which we hope the Planning Commission will take into consideration when reviewing this project.

The large field of solar panels and the ensuing glare will be bothersome to neighbors, potentially hazardous to drivers on First Avenue, and it will destroy the scenic character and aesthetic integrity of this neighborhood.

Napa County General Plan policies AG/LU-4, AG/LU-12 and AG/LU-27 prohibit non-agricultural use of agricultural land. The applicant argues that according to AG/LU-29, there is an exception for the development of governmental and public utilities, and that the proposed Palm Drive Solar Project falls in the category of public utility, because the applicant intends to sell the product to Marin Clean Energy.

This argument is not valid, since Renewable Properties, the applicant is not a governmental or public utility. Renewable Properties is a private development and investment firm. The firm’s goal, as stated on their website, is to maximize financial returns for their clients.

The applicant and the property owners wish to develop the Palm Drive Solar Facility for their personal profit, while using solar energy as their trump card to obtain a Use Permit. They are the only players who stand to benefit from this project, to the detriment of all other residents in the area.

The Palm Drive Solar Project is clearly inconsistent with the Community Character Element Policy (Goals CC-1, CC-2 and CC-5). Several acres of solar panels and power stations will not “preserve, improve or provide visual access to the beauty of Napa County.” There is nothing attractive about a large field of solar panels. This development is suited for an industrial or commercial area, not for a residential neighborhood.

The applicant contends that some of the solar panels will be screened from view corridors along First Avenue by residential homes and foliage. The Planning Commission has the obligation to act in the best interest of the entire community, not just a single resident (in this case, the Huss family), or in the interest of a developer (Renewable Properties). It is obvious that using existing residential homes to “hide” the unsightly and out-of-place commercial solar facility would be detrimental to owners of the neighboring properties, and to the whole community.

The applicant states that this commercially-sized, industrial solar project “is consistent with the existing character of the immediate community, as there are homes with solar panels installed on rooftops.” The Planning Commission must recognize the distinction between rooftop or even in-ground solar panels installed for private use by the owner, and the commercial/industrial nature of the project. It is unsettling that the applicant would resort to such comparisons when trying to justify their own, financially-driven agenda.

Renewable Properties wants to remove several acres of blue oaks and coast live oaks, in addition to other vegetation, and replace them with commercial-scale solar panels. The existing oak trees provide protection from stormwater runoff. Removing the trees and replacing them with solar panels increase the potential of stormwater runoff and flooding of the neighboring properties. The proposed retaining swales do not sufficiently mitigate this impact.

Granting a Use Permit for this enterprise will set a legal precedent for future industrial and commercial projects in AW/AVA zones, putting at risk the aesthetic and scenic character of Napa County AVAs, thus destroying the quality of life and hurting the local economy.

The appearance, character and use of the industrial Palm Drive Solar Facility is not suitable for the Coombsville area. All residents of this neighborhood are strongly opposed to this development. Our fact-based opinions should be taken into consideration, since only the property owners, as well as the developer stand to benefit from this enterprise. The project is detrimental to all other residents in the area.

We urge the Planning Commission and our district supervisor to consider the following:

-- On what basis (other than monetary gain for the interested parties) should a Use Permit be granted?

-- How would granting this variance benefit local residents and environment?

-- Whose interests is the Planning Commission representing while making a decision about this project?

Hanna Stolarczyk and Jackson Conaway

Napa

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