Solar energy facilities will be allowed in certain parts of the town of South Boston for the first time ever, after receiving approval from town council at a Monday meeting.

Council unanimously passed an amendment to the town’s zoning ordinance allowing solar energy facilities in rural residential agricultural districts by special use permit. Councilman Winston Harrell made the motion to approve the amendment.

A public hearing was held immediately before council took action on the amendment. No one spoke in the hearing.

Prior to council’s approval of the amendment, Councilman Bill Snead raised a question about the amount of taxes that an operator of a solar facility would pay on a property versus the amount of taxes that are currently being paid.

“They’ll be paying real estate taxes plus they’ll be paying an additional fee,” town manager Tom Raab replied. “It’s more money, not less.”

A prospective solar developer has already shown interest in South Boston. Cenergy, a California-based commercial solar developer, is requesting the development of a 15-megawatt solar facility in South Boston. The proposed solar farm would encompass about 95 acres of land.

Each solar facility wishing to begin operation in the town of South Boston, including Cenergy, will be required to submit an application for a special use permit for council’s approval. A public hearing also will be held prior to the approval of each application.

At council’s May meeting, Mayor Ed Owens asked Raab if the proposed solar energy farm would create any jobs in South Boston.

Raab responded it likely would create jobs, at least on a temporary basis because workers would be needed for the solar panel installation process.

In other action at Monday’s meeting, council unanimously approved an amendment to increase the current fiscal year’s budget by $316,693 for the following: Imperial Lofts, LLC loans ($182,947), public works equipment paid for with FEMA grant funds ($88,746) and the Poplar Creek Homes Project ($45,000).

Council also adopted by a unanimous vote the fee and tax list for fiscal year 2020-2021 and adopted on the first reading the proposed $12,463,814 budget for fiscal year 2020-2021. The only change in the fee and tax list is the addition of a six-month seasonal peddlers’ license, listed at $250.

Council also received an update on improvements in the Sinai community from Sinai resident Anthony Womack during the citizen comment portion of the meeting. Several Sinai residents also attended the meeting to show their support.

Womack said progress is being made on the cleanup of Westside Mobile Home Park and patching potholes on the roadways, discussion of the construction of a sidewalk on Route 654 (Sinai Road) and a public park in Sinai.

“Several council members, candidates and the town manager have come to Sinai, looked at our safety issues and discussed possible locations for a much needed recreation department. We have established a committee of seven members and selected types of equipment for the park and a suggested name,” Womack shared. “Two members of our community have already pledged to pay for the cost of a sign. As of right now, over 30 men and young men have signed up to do our part to ensure that the park will remain a safe, family-oriented environment.”

Womack also thanked the town council for listening to the needs of the Sinai community and being willing to take action to make positive changes in the community. He originally shared concerns about the need for safety and visual improvements to Sinai at council’s May meeting.

“I hope you all can hear, see and feel that we are standing together as a community…to get our safety needs meet,” Womack said. “It’s a much long-awaited community effort and we’re doing it together.’

Several members of town council at Monday’s meeting, in turn, thanked Womack for the work he is doing in the Sinai community.

“We commend you for your ‘Superman’ project and making your community safe,” Snead said. “My hat’s off to you all for making that big step to do all you can for your community.”

Councilman Michael Byrd also thanked Womack for his work in the Sinai community.

“We appreciate the fact that what you all are exemplifying is a community saying, ‘We are a community here in South Boston. We matter in South Boston, but not only that, we have to work together,’” Byrd said. “It’s a great work that you all have done already. I know there’s more work to be done, but we appreciate it.”

Harrell also thanked Womack and told him the town council would continue to work with the Sinai community to get all of its safety needs addressed.

Councilwoman Sharon Harris commented that making positive changes in the Sinai community has to be a “partnership” between community members and the town’s leaders and encouraged Womack to continue communicating with council about progress being made in Sinai.

Before Monday’s meeting ended, Owens commended Nevaeh Hodges for organizing the peaceful Black Lives Matter protest that was held June 2 in South Boston.

“I think this is just the beginning of a dialogue that needs to be had,” Owens said.

Byrd followed up by recommending council recognize Hodges for her “exemplary actions” with a proclamation or resolution. Owens said he would draft a resolution recognizing Hodges for council’s review at its next work session.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.