Plans for a fourth “central” interchange for Cabot were likely dealt a death blow at the April 24 Cabot Planning Commission meeting with approval for exemption from right-of-way requirements for a 35-acre solar energy array. Also at the meeting, longtime commissioner Dennis Hiland announced his resignation after serving 15 years.
In other city business, Mayor Bill Cypert announced Joe Gunderman as interim director for the Public Works Department.
Commissioners Chad Young, Nancy Cohea, Chuck Prater, Jerrol Maxwell, Claude Irwin and Hiland attended the meeting, presided by Reid.
Before opening the meeting for business, Reid announced that this would be the last meeting for Hiland, who had decided to resign his seat. Reid said Hiland had been appointed to the commission by then-mayor Mickey Stumbaugh, and has since served under two other mayors, Eddie Joe Williams and Bill Cypert. Hiland had resigned from his professional work in 2016, but had continued on the Commission. “We thank you not only for your service not only to this commission but also to the citizens of Cabot, and to the city,” Reid said.
In a public hearing, commissioners considered a request by Scenic Hill Solar for a revision to the Cabot Master Street Plan, to modify right-of-way requirements affecting a planned building side at the area designated for the Central Cabot Interchange at Richie Road. The site would be used for a solar array of about 35 acres.
City planning adviser James Walden said considering the request is actually a decision whether the interchange is “Something that would move forward or not.”
Scenic Hill’s request is to not require right-of-way where the interchange would be built, or on the connector road leading to Second Street, Walden said. Granting the exemption would effectively end consideration of the interchange, which would be between U.S. Highway 67/167 interchanges 16 and 19.
The request is an initial planning step; the plat for the building site is to be on the agenda of the May 22 Planning Commission agenda, Walden said.
Progress on the central interchange can be described as “A death of a thousand cuts,” Walden said. While it has been on the Master Street Plan for many years as a connection to Campground Road, housing construction has since blocked that route.
“I don’t think it is realistic to expect, if the interchange was constructed, that it would ever connect to Campground,” Walden said.
With that, Arkansas Department of Transportation now considers the interchange as providing only local benefit, meaning the city would bear the cost of construction, Walden explained. The expense for the city to build the interchange would become “substantial,” and likely not cost effective for the marginal benefit it would provide, he said.
Scenic Hill Solar CEO, former Arkansas lieutenant governor Bill Halter, spoke about the need for the right-of-way exemption. “[Scenic Hill] has been engaged by one of our clients to build a large solar array on their behalf,” he said.
Building the array would be a $9- to $10-million capital investment and would involve “thousands” of the 3-foot by 6-foot solar modules, Halter said.
Scenic Hill built a similar installation at Clarksville with 20,000 modules; the Cabot installation would be about four times larger than the array built for the L’Oreal plant at North Little Rock, Halter said.
Because of the engineering involved, the array is “incredibly orderly” with a futuristic 21st century appearance, Halter said. It would have the capability to annually deliver about $500,000 worth of “clean, renewable energy,” he added.
While the solar array, on its own, could be built within the existing right-of-way requirements, it would make it difficult to use the remaining space of the 74 acres that are under contract, Halter said. “We certainly hope … to get a good disposition of this from you.”
The vote was unanimous to recommend the exemption to the City Council.
In other city business, in a letter last Friday, April 27, Cypert announced the appointment, effective Monday, of Gunderman as interim Public Works Director.
“Joe will ensure business as usual as we value engineer and restructure a state-of-the-art strategic planning function for our city that is reasonable, fair and equitable and supports community development. He will also take the lead in the MS4 Storm water Inventory Mapping Project mandated by ADEQ,” Cypert’s letter said.