Traverse City News and Events

Acme To Hold Public Hearings On Proposed Solar Farm, Kmart Redevelopment

By Beth Milligan | March 16, 2020

Acme Township planning commissioners will hold public hearings tonight (Monday) on two major projects proposed for the township: a 50-acre solar farm on M-72 and the redevelopment of the former Kmart store on US-31.

Prism Power Partners, a renewable energy project developer, hopes to build a solar farm called Trailside Solar on M-72 property east of Bates Road and north of the TART Trail. The project would include up to 9 MW worth of photovoltaic solar arrays comprising approximately 50 acres. The developer estimates the project will “supply clean renewable energy for approximately 3,600 homes,” and generate 81 local temporary construction jobs.

“(The) Trailside Solar facility will provide a clean alternative energy source for the local community and will likely increase the reliability of the local energy grid,” Prism Power Partners wrote in its application to the township. “The solar project has been developed in such a way that the associated placement, installation, and construction activities for (the) solar energy farm will protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the local community. The Trailside Solar project intends to be low impact.”

According to the developer, the solar panels and support structures will not exceed a height of 16 feet at maximum tilt, and will be set back at least 50 feet from property lines and right-of-ways, as well as 200 feet from residential dwellings. The developer proposes encircling the entire property in security fencing topped by barbed wire.

“Given the location of (the) project setback from M-72, the public will be very limited to be able to see the array,” Prism Power Partners wrote. “The property’s perimeter has dense vegetation and mature trees that are intended to remain to serve as the vegetation buffer for the screening. The site, when constructed, will largely look as it presently looks from M-72 due to the already screened nature of the site.”

Trailside Solar is the first solar project to come forward since township trustees approved allowing such facilities with a special use permit (SUP) in 2018. Planning commissioners first reviewed the project at their February 24 meeting, where Prism Power Partners representatives noted that the solar array has a projected lifespan of 35 years and would be taxed as industrial personal property, generating an estimated $113,000 in taxes in the first year, according to meeting minutes. The developer hopes to break ground on construction this fall, with the array completed and operational by spring or summer 2021.

While a variety of issues initially brought up by planning commissioners at the February 24 meeting have largely been addressed in the project plans – such as setbacks, wetland delineation, panel glare, and site access – one major area of concern is still outstanding: how the array’s stormwater runoff will be managed and the project’s potential impact on the nearby watershed, notably the environmentally sensitive Yuba Creek. Planning Commission Chair Karly Wentzloff notes the property has “steep slopes in relation to the watershed,” increasing the risk of runoff into the creek.

“During our deliberations (on February 24), we stressed that we’re sensitive to having the site opened up right next to Yuba Creek,” Wentzloff says. Williamsburg residents Fred and Denny Rohn wrote to planning commissioners expressing similar concerns, citing past issues in Acme Township when development runoff spilled into Acme Creek. “The topography of this location has sloping, which makes runoff into the creek inevitable and a considerable concern,” the Rohns wrote. “As water comes off the solar panels from rain, it will most definitely reach the creek and will be of an elevated temperature. The Yuba Creek is a designated cold water trout stream…the temperature is important to sustain the existing wildlife and health of the creek.”

Township staff have also flagged stormwater controls as a potential issue, noting the project plans have not yet received a “favorable stormwater review.” For that reason, staff is not recommending the project be approved tonight, but instead the public hearing kept open so that planning commissioners can continue to review the SUP request at future meetings and ensure adequate stormwater control measures are in place before moving forward. “The impact on Yuba Creek and neighboring properties from stormwater runoff is unclear at this time,” the staff report states. Staff are also recommending that the security fencing not be topped with barbed wire and not encircle the entire perimeter of the array, noting that the creek “serves as an active wildlife corridor” and that fencing should be placed in a way that does not prevent its continued usage as such a corridor.

Planning commissioners tonight will also hold a public hearing on the planned redevelopment of the former Kmart site on US-31 (pictured). Developer Lormax Stern has purchased the 87,000 square-foot building and is pursuing a planned unit development (PUD) – a zoning plan customized to a specific property – to create a mixed-use development that could eventually feature restaurants, cafes, public spaces, retail, childcare, office/municipal use, and a residential component. Lormax Stern plans to use roughly two-thirds of the Kmart building itself for climate-controlled indoor storage. Company representative Daniel Stern has stated he has already started discussions with potential commercial tenants of the site, as well as a developer to spearhead the residential housing component.

Wentzloff says there seems to be general planning commission support for the project, though she’d like to see more detailed phasing plans from Lormax Stern specifying what parts of the development are going to be built when. Developers are also seeking broad permission to have a wide range of potential commercial uses at the site; Wentzloff and other planning commissioners and township staff would like to see those dialed in to a more narrow, specific list of allowed uses, since some are “not compatible on that site,” Wentzloff says. Tonight’s public hearing would be the first step in a process that would also include township trustee review and approval in order for the PUD to move forward.

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