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.