Bigs Ford Solar (copy)

Frederick County Council members voted Tuesday to deny a request for rezoning for a proposed solar array in Walkersville.

After listening to more than half a dozen Walkersville residents, the applicant and county staff, Frederick County Council members voted to deny a request for rezoning for a proposed solar array in Walkersville.

The array, Whitmore/Biggs Ford Solar Center, proposed at the northwest corner of Biggs Ford and Dublin roads in Walkersville, was opposed by more than half a dozen residents at Tuesday’s meeting.

The proposal was for about 151 acres of agricultural land for a $17.2 million solar energy site. Ryan Gilchrist, a Coronal Energy project developer, and Noel Manalo, a land-use attorney from Miles and Stockbridge, were part of the applicant team that presented the proposal project to county staff.

After that, the first member of the public who spoke was John Whitmore, son of Ralph Whitmore, who owns the farm. John said his father and the applicant were pitching a good project for the county, and expressed concern that residential development would lead to more cars on nearby roads and kids in local schools.

“Right now, you have a solid ownership team working to conserve this land,” Whitmore said. “The ability for us to maintain this property is going to be negatively impacted moving forward. ... What’s going to happen to people down the road when you’re adding more houses?”

All of the other speakers, however, spoke against the proposed solar array. All of them lived in nearby neighborhoods, and said they were concerned about the array’s impact on property values and their overall view of the farm.

“We bought the property because we felt certain the regulations in place now would be enforced,” said Jim Connell, who lives in the 8400 block of Grossnickle Court.

Connell’s neighbor Patrick Volovar said the solar array didn’t align with Walkersville’s comprehensive plan. His wife, Bonnie, called the farm a “living museum” and an example of a time before development started to increase countywide.

Before taking public comment, council members questioned the applicant about the array, and expressed concern that it didn’t meet benchmarks under the county’s current solar ordinance.

Some of those included that the property is composed of 100 percent prime farmland soils, and the project footprint exceeds the 10 percent threshold of tillable acreage, according to a staff report from the county’s Planning Department.

At one point, after a line of questioning, Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) asked the applicant after noting it didn’t meet the criteria: “Why would we approve this?”

During that questioning, Councilman Phil Dacey (R) said that although he supported renewable and solar energy, the council had to follow the ordinance as written.

That opinion was seconded by Councilman Kai Hagen (D).

“I think anybody who knows me knows I’m concerned about the environment and climate change,” he said. “But we’re also, as Councilman [Phil] Dacey discussed, constrained by the ordinance.”

After public comment and the applicant provided rebuttal, the council voted to deny the rezoning application by a 6-0 vote. Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The council’s next meeting is Feb. 26, where its members are slated to hold a public hearing about the Monocacy Scenic River Management Plan.

Follow Steve Bohnel on Twitter:

@Steve_Bohnel.

Steve Bohnel is the county government reporter for the Frederick News-Post. He can be reached at sbohnel@newspost.com. He graduated from Temple University, with a journalism degree in May 2017, and is a die-hard Everton F.C. fan.

(25) comments

mrnatural1

On Feb 21, 2019 @ 8:47pm MD1756 wrote:

"They may have done nothing illegal but in my opinion, that doesn't make them right. They certainly aren't following the golden rule (which is not legally enforceable). People have opinions about global warming, but they all certainly aren't right."

~

I'm not trying to be argumentative, just curious -- how did the neighbors who were expressing their concerns about the view violate the "Golden Rule"?

As I've said, I support alternative energy, we purchase 100% wind power (even though it costs more than Potomac Ed's coal power), and I agree that the neighbors were being selfish and shortsighted. Solar panels are clearly preferable to a bunch of ugly boxes.

That said, many/most people who express concerns at public meetings are -- to one extent or another -- greedy, selfish, short-sighted, and/or stupid. That's just human nature. People look out for themselves and their own best interest. Their opinions are often worthless. They make false claims/statements (knowingly or not). Expecting that to change is unrealistic. The Golden Rule doesn't apply (or is a distant consideration).

Everyone makes their best case -- business owners; farmers; homeowners; developers; landowners, etc. We probably do not agree with most of them -- I certainly wish the developers would go away -- but they have a right to speak. We have to trust that our elected officials will be able to see though the self-serving claims and do what's right and fair for all involved.

mrnatural1

The farm becoming another cluster of ugly boxes is a serious concern.

My guess is that the neighbors who are against the solar project are betting/hoping that the the zoning will remain the same. I wouldn't make that bet.

It's all but guaranteed that the zoning will eventually change to residential. As many comments note, solar panels are preferable to houses.

If the folks that live around there are smart they will help the owners of the farm get the ordinance changed so that the solar project can go through. The only better option would be if the owner was willing to agree to a conservation easement. Solar panels are the next best choice.

As for the charges of NIMBYism, while I disagree with the neighbors in this case, I have to defend their right to their opinions. Suppose instead of this solar project it was a housing development that they were fighting. I believe that EVERY FredCo resident has a right to express their views -- whether their family has been here for 7 generations, or they bought a townhouse 7 months ago. Yes, they increased our problems when they moved here, but the day they become a FredCo resident they have every right to fight further growth and sprawl.

We can't blame someone for playing by the rules. There were houses for sale and they bought one. When they were a buyer they were glad there were houses available. Now that they live here, they want a total building moratorium. There's nothing wrong with that at all.

An analogy might be a lifeboat. As long as there is room in the boat we can't blame someone for boarding, but if they bring the boat to 100% capacity, it is only natural that they would not want others to board behind them.

FredCo is actually beyond capacity, so the analogy isn't entirely accurate, but that's the idea.

MD1756

If they are having children and in part responsible for the growing population, then there is a problem. Any one can have whatever opinion they want. What they can't have is a guaranteed farm view or property value increase at someone else's expense. I'd be willing to help fund the farmer to put up a wall on his property facing the small development so they don't get a free view of his property. If they want the view, they can pay him since they don't want the view of solar panels. Conservation easements don't pay the bills. I'd rather have the farmer earn income through solar panels (thus reducing air pollution and water pollution since less chemicals will be needed for raising crops on that land) than selling part of the land to make it easier for continued sprawl. If people want the farm to remain a farm to protect their view maybe they should support the farmer and help pay his bills.

mrnatural1

MD1756,

I agree with almost everything you said, in fact I've said essentially the same thing many times -- particularly the part about having kids and increasing the population.

What I take issue with is the idea that because the people who are fighting the solar power project bought homes that were purchased relatively recently, and there used to be a farm where those homes are located (therefore they themselves potentially ruined someone else's view) -- they have no right to express an opinion. Or if they do, their opinion should carry less/no weight.

My wife and I live in a 130 year old log cabin and have no children (by choice), yet I do not feel my opinion counts more than (say) the folks who live in Foxfield outside Middletown. It's not as if people living in newer homes bribed officials to look the other way while they built McMansions on Ag land. They played by the rules. A house was on the market and they bought it. Do I like that they were able to do that? No, but they did nothing illegal. Now that they are here, they are FredCo residents. Their votes count the same as ours, and their opinions should too.

Other than that, I absolutely agree that "they can't have a guaranteed farm view or property value increase at someone else's expense." As much as I hate seeing farm after farm bulldozed for more ugly boxes, we cannot expect a landowner or farmer to turn down $Millions just to preserve "our" view. As you said, if people like a view that much, they should get together and buy the property.

In short, we cannot blame people for playing by the rules, but the rules must change.

Of course "conservation easements don't pay the bills", I never suggested otherwise. All I meant was that it's an *option* -- nothing more. Many farmers do go that route, and should be commended for it. They do receive some money from the state, but it's generally nowhere near what a greed head developer would offer. At the end of the day though, it's obviously the landowner's decision to make. We might like the idea of PV panels and/or wind turbines (BTW, my wife and I buy 100% wind power) but if the landowner wants to sell a conservation easement, well, it's their land.

I've been interested in alternative energy since the 1970's. A solar power installation would not hurt my feelings one bit, but I do question the wisdom of using what is described as "Prime farmland". Solar panels could theoretically be removed (if population growth continues and more farmland is needed) -- much more easily than a housing development! -- but there are better places for solar. Just sayin'. I wouldn't suggest prime farmland should *never* be used, but it should be a last resort.

Still, if the county decides that's what they want to do, then they only need to change the ordinance -- remove the '10% of farmland' restriction. It seems clear from what the council members said that they wanted to vote for it but their hands were tied by the 10% restriction.

MD1756

They may have done nothing illegal but in my opinion, that doesn't make them right. They certainly aren't following the golden rule (which is not legally enforceable). People have opinions about global warming, but they all certainly aren't right.

KellyAlzan

I’d much rather have solar panels then a trucking terminal / warehouse built on that land

veritas

And so it begins. If you think this bad, wait till 2024 or so when AOC becomes president and begins full bore implementation of the Green New Deal.[scared][beam]

MD1756

The Green New Deal should be called something else since only one pillar deals partly with the environment. However, whether or not you believe in global warming, increased population causes increased fossil fuel extraction and consumption which increases adverse impacts on human health and the environment. Even natural gas causes problems (see: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/environmental-impacts-of-natural-gas#bf-toc-1) For other harmful impacts see: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils#bf-toc-2 which includes information such as "...Particulate matter (soot) emissions produce haze and can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and elevated occurrence of premature death. In 2010, it is estimated that fine particle pollution from US coal plants resulted in 13,200 deaths, 9,700 hospitalizations, and 20,000 heart attacks. The impacts are particularly severe among the young, the elderly, and those who suffer from respiratory disease. The total health cost was estimated to be more than $100 billion per year [41]...." So why would anyone be against someone using resources on their own property to reduce the need for fossil fuels and make a profit on it at the same time? I'd put up with a solar farm over asthma any day. More people should install solar and geothermal (as I have to go carbon negative with my home energy use) as a long term investment. Now, in retirement, my typical utility bill is $5.36/month and I went from using over 500 gallons of oil a year just to heat the house down to zero gallons. All while earning about a 3 1/2% rate of return for installing solar and between 7% and 10% for installing my geothermal unit. Good for the environment and good for my wallet. Go ahead and continue to contribute to the environmental problems while fattening big energy's wallets if you want, I choose to keep the money for myself while being environmentally responsible. Fighting solar farms on farms that otherwise might be forced out of business just so a few can selfishly "preserve" their views (ones as I already pointed out, they wrecked for others when their homes were built on what was once farmland) is not what I'd call responsible.

phydeaux994

AOC is 1 of 235 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who is in her first term. 67 out of 235 Democratic members of the House of Representatives voted to support the Green New Deal. Nancy Pelosi didn’t vote to support the Green New Deal. 167 other Democratic members of the House of Representatives didn’t vote for the Green New Deal. All you BBT(BullyTagTeam) persons talk about are what the Democrats do or not do. What has Trump done Legislatively in the last two years, and specifically in the last 7 months, to MakeAmericaGreatAgain? Spending more than half his time in “ExecutiveTime” telling Beavis and Butthead how to run his multi-billion dollar Real Estate Empire he has built over his Lifetime doesn’t count. Who among you RRR(RadicalRightRepublicans) will say? Wanna take a stab at it veritas? Anyone?

DickD

I agree on one thing, the application for solar does not meet the current restrictions. But the restrictions are silly and need to be changed. As mentioned elsewhere, there is no guarantee of view and farm land will not be changed by using solar on the land. In fact, it could still be used to grow crops, at the same time. The Council needs to change this restriction, which is foolish.

mrnatural1

Dick,

Just curious, how could the land still be used to crop crops if it is covered with PV panels?

MD1756

I just checked Google Earth and it appears that those on Grossnickle Court who are complaining, ruined the farmland view of those living on Dublin Rd and Lassie Ct sometime between 1988 and 2005 (based on historic satellite images). So they have no standing for complaining.

KellyAlzan

Agreed

MD1756

I bet many of those complaining ruined someone else's farm view when their development/house were built. When it comes time for carbon taxes, those who came out against this project should pay extra. Change the ordinance to allow these project to o through. This is truly about property rights where the action of the farmer and energy company will not adversely impact human health and the environment by discharging pollution. Zoning ordinances always change so no one shoud expect their property to always remain as is. As far as property values, 1) I don't think it's anyone's god given right to have their property value go up and 2) I'd rather have mine go down so I pay less taxes. Finally, there are people who would hoose to live near a solar farm knowing that more housing will not be going up. I personally don't think solar panels are ugly (and less ugly than seeing acres of farmland turned into housing developments like the ones those complaining live in.

niceund

I can see denying something because it doesn't follow a comprehensive plan or the rules for that type of development. However, to deny something just because neighbors want to keep a view of farmland it's totally silly. This Farm will likely now become a huge Housing Development. The residents who we're against the solar use will only have themselves to blame for ruining everyone's lives in the town of Walkersville.

newspostreader

I was thinking the same thing. I don't know why people go so up in arms over a solar field. I'd rather have that than several hundred houses.

stevemckay

It was actually denied precisely because it didn't conform to the criteria in the County's Zoning Ordinance for putting this kind of solar installation on Ag land. It was also inconsistent with the Town of Walkersville's Comprehensive Plan. Personally, the view shed arguments weren't very persuasive to me. The fact that it violated numerous clear restrictions in the Ordinance was all I needed to say no.

AstuteBusinessWoman

Thank you.
I’m beginning to wonder if anyone understands Ag zoning, Prime Agricultural land and what it means for ALL of us. This land is zoned Agrucultural for a reason. This and other land around the county is some of the richest farm soil around. The real conversation which needs to happen at a council meeting real soon is:
What can we do to help young/new farmers and Agri-business owners/would be owners to succeed in this county? How can we keep the Ag land used as what it is- prime, rich farmland to be proud of and utilized in its best form?
Steve, I voted for you bc I watched and listened and realized you seem to get what many don’t. Use your intelligence, resourcefulness, and wit to help be the big solution here in Frederick County... How can the council work to be certain improvements and support are given to local FFA chapters in our high schools? What can be done In Our county to reduce local barriers to entry for new Agri- Business endeavors ( and others)? How can we meet the challenge with real answers, instead of throwing in the towel and turning our backs on farm and agri-business operations. Farming IS a business. Why is the question: will it be solar panels or houses?? Why not do the work required and meet the challenge to let it be: Gee, maybe we could actually support the thought that it should remain Agri land and be utilized as such!
The argument it can be both farm and industrial solar panels is very weak, and those using that argument display their lack of understanding on farming.
Research it Steve, and be part of the solution to a growing problem.

stevemckay

Thanks for the response ABW. Fwiw - I am a proponent of increasing our Ag preservation efforts, and for promoting our agri-business. You've provided additional thoughts for me to consider, and I will. Thank you.

mrnatural1

Great comment AstuteBusinessWoman! [thumbup][thumbup]

mrnatural1

Agreed niceund.

I'd point out though that the denial was exclusively due to the relevant ordinance -- not the neighbors' concerns about their view.

I agree that the neighbors who were/are against the solar power plant are 'misguided' (to put it politely) but they do have a right to voice their opinion -- regardless of how long they have lived in FredCo or how when their house was built (1810, 1910, or 2010).

If the ordinance allowed more than 10% of the farmland to be covered with PV panels (100% in this case) it's all but guaranteed the installation would have been approved. No amount of complaining about a view would convince a majority of council members otherwise.

It seems that almost everyone posting here (including myself) agrees that the neighbors' concerns about their view should not carry much weight. But the proper response to frivolous/misguided/selfish concerns isn't to try to silence people. They have a right to say their piece. The CC members can determine which opinions to listen to and which to dismiss.

If it wasn't the view it might be something crazy like concerns about electromagnetic radiation, etc. OTOH, it might be something more legitimate, like pointing out that with America's and the Earth's population continuing to grow, there will be a need for more and more farmland. As great as solar energy is, it might make more sense to install panels on land that is not suitable for farming.

gabrielshorn2013

This decision is silly NIMBYism at its worst. First, if you’re one of the whiners that want to preserve “your view” of someone else’s property, get together with neighbors with a similar mindset and buy the property at a price that developers will now be offering. Nobody owes you a view. Second, the owners apparently tried to save open space for your benefit. Unless another farmer is willing to pay what a developer will for the land (why would they?) you have pretty much assured that there will be a development of hundreds of houses on that property. Congratulations, nice job.

niceund

TOTALLY AGREE!

phydeaux994

I’m sure that is what Trump is telling landowners along the 1300 miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border. “You don’t need no stinkin’ view of the River. And you can just sell your boat and buy your fish at the Supermarket”.

gabrielshorn2013

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