City hires outside counsel on solar case

Columbus officials have hired a Greensburg-based attorney to help with litigation involving a proposed solar energy farm.

The Columbus Board of Public Works and Safety approved a limited contract of employment with Chris Tebbe of Hamilton & Tebbe Law Office to work as outside legal counsel on a recently consolidated case pending in Decatur County Superior Court involving a California-based solar company.

Carina Solar LLC, a division of Samsung C&T, sought a conditional use permit to build a solar farm on about 1,880 acres of land leased from more than two dozen local landowners. After hearings just days apart before the Bartholomew County Board of Zoning Appeals and the Columbus BZA in February, the county denied the application on roughly 1,100 acres, but the city approved the application on about 800 acres.

Carina sued the county BZA on March 26, challenging the board’s denial of its conditional use permit to construct the solar farm on property in its zoning jurisdiction. One day later, a group of more than two dozen local landowners sued Carina and the Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals, contesting the approval of a conditional use permit for portions of the solar farm within the city’s zoning jurisdiction.

The proposed solar farm includes multiple parcels of land leased from individual owners located generally south of County Road 100S, west of County Road 525E, east of South Gladstone Avenue and north of County Road 400S in Columbus Township.

On June 3, Special Judge Matthew Bailey of Decatur County ordered the suit filed by the landowners consolidated with the suit filed by Carina Solar. The decision followed an order in favor of consolidating the cases that Bailey had issued in the first-filed case.

City attorney Alex Whitted said Tebbe will help with the representation of the city and will be assisting in brief writing and oral arguments.

Bailey set a telephone status conference with parties in the consolidated cases for June 19 at 2:30 p.m. to discuss pretrial scheduling and processes.

Carina Solar is represented by attorneys from Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP in Indianapolis. The landowner plaintiffs are represented by Fort Wayne attorney Jason Kuchmay.