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Court is next option for plans to make Beaver Hills golf course property a solar farm

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Beaver Hills Golf Course is closed, possibly for good, and that could be the only thing that is settled about the property on Kings Mountain Road.

A request for a special-use permit that would allow the construction of a solar farm on the property has been denied by the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals, but Andrew Palmer, commercial leasing manager for The Lester Group, says North Carolina Renewable Energy intends to appeal that decision.

Such an appeal would end up in front of a judge in coming weeks, but as of Jan. 1, affectionately known as the “rock pile” no longer is home to a golf course, as it had been for 75 years.

“The golf course was closing either way,” Palmer said. “The lease ran out at the end of the year, and we are still planning to go to court on Jan. 13.”

That court date is with William McLawhorn, who turned over the keys to Palmer on Jan. 1, at the end of a 1-year lease he had with Beaver Hills Development Corporation.

Palmer says the company, co-owned by George Lester and Randolph Isley, is owed money by McLawhorn, who had become delinquent with his rent payments.

McLawhorn disputes the claim, saying he had an issue with one monthly payment and that Lester and Isley refused to accept his money after the one problem.

“It’s a one-year lease, so it doesn’t matter,” Isley said at a community meeting in November. “We’ll go to court on Jan. 13 and handle it in court then.”

McLawhorn sat behind the counter in the clubhouse on New Year’s Eve. The only vehicle in the parking lot was his. The golf carts had been reclaimed by the leasing company the day before.

“If they would just work with me and give it some time this would all work out,” McLawhorn said. “Nobody could turn this place around in a year, but with a five-year lease we could have it back like it was.”

McLawhorn said he talked with Isley, and he agreed to give him until Jan. 4 to move out and then Palmer called him back and said he would be there on Jan. 1 to take possession of the property.

“He was real nice, and everyone was respectful,” Palmer said of the encounter. “He gave me the keys and left, and I cut the lights out and locked the gate.”

A few hours later, McLawhorn posted on the golf course’s Facebook page.

“People of Martinsville and Henry County, I regret to inform you that the owners of Beavers Hills Golf Club have chosen to appeal the solar farm decision,” McLawhorn wrote. “The appeals process apparently forces the golf course to close.”

Not a good idea

Lee Clark, the county’s director of planning, zoning and inspection, advised Board of Zoning members against approving a special-use request that would allow the property to be transformed into a solar farm.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t, at the very least, give you my professional opinion ... and I can’t say covering that property with solar panels for the next 40 years would be the highest and best use of that property,” Clark said.

But Clark’s reasoning had nothing to do with the golf course.

“Agreements, leases, anything of the sort, we don’t have input in that—we don’t have a dog in that hunt,” Clark said. “Where I see the county does have the right and the responsibility to look at this from a land use perspective and in my opinion—this 120 acres of property is already zoned commercial, it’s got 100 feet of frontage along Kings Mountain Road—easily the premier road in this part of the county.”

Clark explained the section of code that board members were to defend and protect.

“Section 21-210, subtitle 3 of the zoning ordinance says you are not to impede the development of surrounding property,” Clark said. “That would be the reason if I were making a legal argument—that this does not meet the criteria for a special use permit.”

Clark likely would be called upon to defend that legal argument in court if NCRE makes good on its promise to appeal the board’s decision.

A judge must decide

In the city of Martinsville, a zoning appeal would go before City Council, but in Henry County the matter goes before a Henry County Circuit Court judge.

Sec. 21-1706 of the county code stipulates that a petition must be presented to the court within 30 days after the filing of the decision in the office of the BZA.

After NCRE presents it case, the judge may review it and rule on the matter, request additional evidence or even appoint a commission to hear the evidence and then report its opinions and conclusions to the judge.

The section referred to by Clark says “that the establishment of the special use will not impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of the surrounding property for uses permitted in the district.”

It is unclear whether the language is meant to be interpreted literally, or figuratively.

Development issues

NCRE’s plans as described in community meeting presentations will not physically block neighboring property from being developed or improved upon. In fact, illustrations of the project show it to be largely non-visible from public view.

But Clark presented the code section to mean a solar farm could impede neighboring development simply because it did not compliment their possible land use.

“The first thing I did is I pulled up our utilities maps and looked at this 120 acres from a standpoint of where this is located,” he said. “Just in looking at utilities that are available to it, the property is supported by sewer, water, power and great access to Kings Mountain Road, Kings Grant Development—a premier retirement community separated by one piece of property and only separated by a government complex that we’re sitting in now [county administration building] and by another Lester-controlled property directly across the street.

“I could not sit back and say—tie up property for 40 years with solar panels is appropriate. Henry County benefits very, very little from the taxation of solar farm properties.”

Manker Stone, a BZA board member, agreed with Clark’s explanation.

“It doesn’t sound very well for the golf course. Just because it ceases to exist, do we want to tie up that property? It’s prime property,” Manker said. “A whole lot of money has been spent revamping roads and new industry and with that is going to come people.”

Clark suggested that if Beaver Hills Development Corporation decided to plant pine trees on the property, it still wouldn’t block his idea of what the development should be for the next 40 years.

Said BZA Board Member Sandra Adams: “The pine trees wouldn’t last 40 years. People in Henry County need to know this—it [the land] should not be tied up—this is prime real estate, and we’re obligated to the people of Henry County.”

Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 236. Follow him @billdwyatt.


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