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    5. 2.    
Regular Planning Commission
Meeting Date: 09/07/2017  
Submitted For: Tim Gladhill, Community Development
By: Eric Maass, Community Development

PUBLIC HEARING: Consider Multiple Actions Related to a Request to Install and Maintain a Ground-Mounted Solar Energy System on the Property Legally Described as Lot 3, Block 1 River Crossing Addition (Project No. 17-135); Case of Connexus Energy
  1. Appeal for issuance of a Development Permit on an officially mapped parcel.
  2. Zoning Amendment to include Solar Energy Systems as a principal use with the issuance of a Conditional Use Permit in the Public/Quasi-Public District.
  3. Zoning Amendment to rezone a property from R-2 Residential to Public/Quasi Public.
  4. Conditional Use Permit to install and maintain a Solar Energy System.
Connexus Energy has applied for a Zoning Amendment and a Conditional Use Permit to construct a new solar garden on the property legally described as Lot 3, Block 1 River Crossing Addition (the "Subject Property"). The system would have the capability of producing 3.5 megawatts (MW) with ground mounted solar photovoltaic panels and would include 6 MW of battery energy storage.  This is one of three (3) sites within Anoka County that Connexus Energy is developing to produce solar energy. 

The Subject Property is owned by Anoka County and would be leased by Connexus Energy. When the City contemplated solar energy systems several years ago, the Zoning Code was amended to consider ground or building mounted solar energy systems as a permitted accessory use in any zoning district. However, it did not account for, or address, the possibility of a solar energy system being the principal use of a property, as would be the case with Connexus' proposal.

Both the current zoning standards for solar energy systems and the information submitted by Connexus are attached for reference.  The final design plans are in the process of being prepared by the solar developer (based on site work being conducted now) but are not complete at this time.  They have stated that they do not anticipate any major changes from the initial proposed layout and the Site Plan would still be subject to review and approval by the City.

Staff attempted to notify all Property Owners within a 350 foot radius of the Subject Property of the Public Hearing via Standard US Mail. The Public Hearing was also published in the City's official newsletter, the Anoka County Union Herald.
As noted, the Subject Property is owned by Anoka County and was initially acquired to accommodate a future bridge crossing.  In 2007, the Subject Property was designated with an Official Map to prevent future development from occurring in advance of the bridge crossing.  However, the current Highway 10 Access Planning Study no longer identifies this parcel as needed for a potential bridge crossing (with the new Armstrong Blvd overpass alignment).  The Planning Commission has assumed the duties of the Official Map Board of Appeals and Adjustments and therefore, will need to take action on an appeal to issue any type of development permit on the Subject Property per City Code Section 117-4 (Official Map).

As part of the Official Map process in 2007, it was noted that the Subject Property was zoned R-2 Residential and that the intention was to re-guide the parcel as Public/Quasi-Public with the 2008 Comprehensive Plan Update and then subsequently rezone the parcel to Public/Quasi Public.  That action did not occur.  However, based on the current owner of the Subject Property (Anoka County) and the proposed use (solar farm), it seems reasonable to rezone the property as Public/Quasi-Public (this would also complete the stated intent when the area was officially mapped) and to amend the uses of that zoning district to identify Solar Energy Systems as a principal use with the issuance of a Conditional Use Permit (this district already identifies municipal and private substations as a permitted use).

The Environmental Policy Board (EPB) was introduced to this concept at their July meeting and then officially reviewed this request at their August meeting.  Questions that the EPB had asked are outlined below along with the responses from the solar developer and/or Connexus Energy.
  • Nuisance noise: The solar energy system will not have any moving parts (fans, panel movement/rotation, etc.) and therefore there should be no discernible noise generated, with the exception of the initial installation of the solar farm.  The battery storage units would include air conditioning.  As with any air conditioning system, the air condensing units would be outside and would generate some noise, but should be within allowable standards.
  • Glare: The panels will be at a fixed tilt, permanently facing south (away from Highway 10), and manufactured with anti-reflective glass specifically designed to reduce glare.  A glare study was provided by the solar developer.  While it does indicate some glare would be produced at a particular receptor (near the southern touch-down point of the Armstrong Blvd overpass), it is minimal and has low potential to create any after-image.
  • Environmental Benefits/Impacts: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, few power generating technologies have as little environmental impact as photovoltaic solar panels.  A ground mounted solar array generates electricity without any moving parts, requires no water, and produces no direct emissions.  Underneath the ground mounted equipment, native vegetation will be established, providing pollinator habitat as well as erosion control and stormwater runoff benefits.  Connexus noted that all power generated by this solar energy system would remain in Ramsey.
  • Final Site Plan plans are being developed presently.  Their design team is completing field work on the Subject Property necessary to complete the final design and Site Plan.  However, it is not anticipated to have any significant impacts to the conceptual layout provided.
While a complete Site Plan is not yet available, consideration of and a recommendation regarding the requested Appeal for a development permit, the Zoning Amendments (both text and map), and Conditional Use Permit can still be addressed.  The EPB recommended approval of the Zoning Amendments and Conditional Use Permit with the following conditions (which have been incorporated into the draft Conditional Use Permit):
  • Submittal of final Site Plan for review and approval by the City.
  • Submittal of a Glare Study (already received).
  • Submittal of a Decommissioning Plan (how the site will be deconstructed and restored upon the abandonment of the operation).
  • Installation of native, sustainable landscape underneath the ground mounted equipment.
The City's Comprehensive Plan does address solar access protection within the Land Use Chapter.  One of the identified policies for solar access protection is to work with the League of Minnesota Cities, University of Minnesota Extension Services, Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, Anoka County, and other agencies to develop programs that increase the use of solar energy systems.  It appears that the proposed project would further this policy.

Note that the attached, draft Conditional Use Permit was prepared as if the Zoning Amendments, both the text and map amendments, were in effect already.

Alternative 1: Approve the Appeal for the issuance of a development permit in the Official Map area and recommend adoption of both Ordinance Amendments and the request for a Conditional Use Permit.  Based on the alignment of the Armstrong Blvd overpass, the Subject Property is no longer needed for a future bridge crossing, and therefore, the issuance of a development permit would not have an impact to future transportation needs.  Solar energy systems as a principal use of property in the Public/Quasi-Public District would encourage development of this renewable energy source while allowing the City to address requests on a case by case basis and apply reasonable conditions to an approval.  Staff supports this alternative.

Alternative 2: Do not approve the appeal for the issuance of a development permit in the Official Map and therefore, do not recommend approval of either Ordinance Amendment or the Conditional Use Permit.  The City is working toward amending the overall Official Map to eliminate those parcels no longer needed for future transportation corridors, which includes the Subject Property.  Thus, Staff would not support Alternative 2.
Funding Source:
All costs associated with this request are the responsibility of the Applicant.
The Environmental Policy Board recommended approval of the Zoning Amendments and Conditional Use Permit.  City Staff also supports the recommended approvals as well as the appeal for the issuance of a development permit within an officially mapped area.
Motion to adopt Resolution #17-09-211 approving an appeal for issuance of a development permit for the Subject Property for the installation of a solar energy system;


Motion to recommend adoption of Ordinances #17-13 and #17-14 to rezone the Subject Property to Public/Quasi-Public and to amend Section 177-122 (Public/Quasi-Public) to identify solar energy systems as a principal use with the issuance of a Conditional Use Permit;


Motion to recommend approval of Resolution #17-09-212 granting a Conditional Use Permit for the installation and maintenance of solar energy system on the Subject Property contingent to review and approval as to legal form by the City Attorney.


Site Location Map
Application Submittal
Draft EPB Meeting Minutes Dated August 21, 2017
Glare Study
Manufacturer Equipment Specification Sheet
Existing Solar Engergy System Regulations
Resolution #17-09-211: Official Map Appeal
Ordinance #17-13: Zoning Map Amendment
Ordinance #17-14: Zoning Text Amendment
Resolution #17-09-212: Conditional Use Permit

Form Review
Inbox Reviewed By Date
Tim Gladhill JoAnn Shaw 09/01/2017 10:25 AM
Form Started By: Eric Maass Started On: 08/26/2017 11:45 AM
Final Approval Date: 09/01/2017

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