Plan­ners give fa­vor­able nod to so­lar project

Record Observer - - Front Page - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­

CENTREVILLE — A so­lar ar­ray op­er­a­tion may soon be com­ing to Milling­ton. The de­vel­oper, Ur­ban Grid of Stevensville, has re­ceived con­cept plan ap­proval and a fa­vor­able rec­om­men­da­tion to the Queen Anne’s County Board of Ap­peals from the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion for a 326.15-acre so­lar op­er­a­tion on Blanco Road in Milling­ton.

The prop­erty, owned by John and Ruth Stoltz­fus of Kennedyville, will be leased by Ur­ban Grid as Jones Farm Lane So­lar LLC for 35 years. The Queen Anne’s County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion put forth the fa­vor­able rec­om­men­da­tion at the Oct. 12 meet­ing.

The pro­posal was dis­cussed at length be­tween plan­ning com­mis­sion mem­bers, the at­tor­ney for Ur­ban Grid, the land­scape ar­chi­tect and, rep­re­sent­ing Ur­ban Grid, Er ynin Walkowiak.

Ur­ban Grid out­lined sev­eral as­pects of its pro­posed plan, ad­dress­ing what it be­lieved to be sev­eral of the plan­ning com­mis­sions’ ar­eas of con­cern. With Ur­ban Grid’s pro­posal, the so­lar pan­els are to be erected on a driven pile sys­tem with no plans for strip­ping of top­soil; low grow­ing grasses, clovers, and pol­li­na­tor friendly species will be part of a land­scape buffer that would in­clude two stag­gered rows of ev­er­green trees, es­sen­tially at the height of sys­tem, along with shrubs, said Walkowiak.

Ac­cord­ing to the land­scape ar­chi­tect’s plan, six- to eight­foot-tall de­cid­u­ous flow­er­ing and shade trees will be planted, with some 12 to 15 feet tall at time of plant­ing. These plants should pro­vide a vis­ual buffer im­me­di­ately, with the plant­ing buffer to­tal­ing 3,967 lin­ear feet, and all road ex­po­sure filled with a buffer as de­scribed or cur­rently cov­ered by ex­ist­ing for­est.

A se­lec­tion of na­tive plants would be used in the buffer and Ur­ban Grid out­lined a main­te­nance plan for two years to en­sure the buffer is es­tab­lished. Six months is the es­ti­mated time for con­struc­tion, and Ur­ban Grid as­sured the com­mis­sion there would be no ex­cess noise and no rou­tine traf­fic at the lo­ca­tion. In ad­di­tion, the so­lar ar­ray it­self would not gen­er­ate noise, and the only sig­nif­i­cant change to the land­scape not screened by the buffer would be the erec­tion of the sub­sta­tion to trans­fer the col­lected en­ergy to the trans­mis­sion lines op­er­ated by Del­marva Power.

Con­struc­tion of the sub­sta­tion it­self will go be­fore the Board of Ap­peals. The sub­sta­tion is in­tended to be

con­structed ad­ja­cent to the ex­ist­ing trans­mis­sion cor­ri­dor and placed near ex­ist­ing tallest struc­ture, so larger struc­tures are gath­ered to­gether, said Ur­ban Grid.

A por­tion of the site is cur­rently ex­cluded from the plan be­cause Mary­land His­tor­i­cal Trust has not yet cleared that por­tion, said Walkowiak. If cleared, the plan will show pan­els on that area. If Mary­land His­toric Trust un­cov­ers any­thing of sub­stance there, that land will re­main un­touched.

Dis­cus­sion en­sued over the pro­posed text amend­ments to County Or­di­nance 17-17, to re­peal and re-en­act cur­rent Con­di­tional Use Sec­tion 18:1-95.S So­lar Ar­rays, amend the Open Space Sec­tion 18:1- 12.A to re­move NCD and TDR open space for so­lar ar­rays, and amend Ar­ti­cle VI Ac­ces­sory Uses to add a new So­lar Ar­ray Stan­dards. The changes were pre­sented to the com­mis­sion by Holly Tomp­kins, de­vel­op­ment re­view prin­ci­pal plan­ner.

Ear­lier in the meet­ing a fa­vor­able rec­om­men­da­tion was given by the plan­ners to the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers with di­rec­tion to plan­ning staff that if

changes are sug­gested as a re­sult of a pro­posed meet­ing the fol­low­ing week with in­dus­try mem­bers, the Text Amend­ment be brought back be­fore the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

Plan­ning and Zon­ing Di­rec­tor Michael Wis­noski said it was pos­si­ble staff could sit down with each ap­pli­cant about land­scape de­sign, as Ur­ban Grid re­layed con­cerns that the lengthy (16-page) or­di­nance is­sued pre­scrip­tive mea­sures and did not seem to al­low for

flex­i­bil­ity as writ­ten.

Ur­ban Grid and an­other in­ter­ested so­lar project de­vel­oper, One En­ergy Re­newal, en­gaged at dif­fer­ent points in the meet­ing in de­bat­ing with the com­mis­sion the finer points of the new text amend­ments. Wis­noski said the 404 so­lar ar­ray project owned and op­er­ated by So­lar City and per­mit­ted by One En­ergy was an ex­am­ple of screen­ing that was not ad­e­quate nor fol­lowed through on, and where top­soil was re­moved when it it

shouldn’t have been, which ne­ces­si­tated the more spe­cific re­quire­ments in the text amend­ment.

Plan­ning Com­mis­sion At­tor­ney Christo­pher F. Drum­mond said the Com­pre­hen­sive Plan strives to main­tain the ru­ral na­ture of the county. So­lar ar­rays can be ugly and jar­ring; soft­en­ing that jar­ring ap­pear­ance is im­por­tant, Drum­mond said.

Ur­ban Grid said it was sug­gest­ing some ad­di­tional flex­i­bil­ity with the text amend­ment as there is a fine line

be­tween what is eco­nomic and what is not. “We have to make sure [the project] is com­pet­i­tive, if I’m a buyer, [I am look­ing at] where can I get a project that is af­ford­able as a de­vel­oper,” said Walkowiak.

“[So­lar] de­vel­op­ers show up and act like ev­ery other freak­ing de­vel­oper, push­ing back against re­quire­ments,” Drum­mond said.

In re­sponse to Drum­mond’s con­cern that de­vel­op­ers con­cerns are fo­cused pri­mar­ily on fi­nan­cial prof­itabil­ity, Walkowiak said, “We all have to feed our fam­i­lies, but it [so­lar con­struc­tion] is of en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit, but there has to be eco­nomic in­cen­tive to make it vi­able to con­struct.”

If the com­mis­sion thinks more in­put from the [so­lar] in­dus­try is needed, said Wis­noski, the plan­ning depart­ment will gather it. How­ever, said Wis­noski, it would be in­cum­bent upon the so­lar de­vel­op­ers and their pro­fes­sional staff to get back to him, it­er­at­ing that he had not re­ceived in­put up to this point from par­ties in­ter­ested to the in­dus­try. “I am not chas­ing the in­dus­try,” re­peated Wis­noski.

Plan­ning Com­mis­sioner Sharon Dob­son sug­gested com­ments from in­ter­ested mem­bers of the [so­lar] in­dus­try be re­ceived by the close of busi­ness, Oct. 20.

The full mo­tion to ac­cept amend­ments to Or­di­nance 17-17 reg­u­lat­ing so­lar ar­rays and so­lar ar­ray stan­dards was given a fa­vor­able rec­om­men­da­tion as writ­ten. Plan­ning Com­mis­sion Chair­man John Perkins di­rected Plan­ning and Zon­ing staff that if they pro­posed changes to the amend­ment af­ter meet­ing with the in­dus­try they the amend­ments back be­fore the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

In ad­di­tion, a Map Amend­ment/County Or­di­nance 17-15 – to add Util­ity Scale So­lar Ar­ray (USSA) Over­lay Map to Queen Anne’s County Zon­ing Maps, as pre­sented by He­len M. Spinelli, prin­ci­pal plan­ner, was given fa­vor­able rec­om­men­da­tion to the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers. As was Text Amend­ment/ County Or­di­nance 17-16 – to add a new zon­ing dis­trict, Util­ity Scale So­lar Ar­rays, as Sec­tion 18:1-39 that shall only ap­ply to the area of the county iden­ti­fied on the Util­ity Scale So­lar Ar­ray Over­lay Map and add def­i­ni­tions for Small-Scale So­lar Ar­ray and Util­ity Scale So­lar Ar­ray to Chap­ter 18 App-1 Ap­pendix a: Glossary.

As per­tain­ing to the Jones Farm Lane So­lar project al­ready ap­plied for, these new rec­om­men­da­tions would ap­ply at the com­mis­sion­ers’ dis­cre­tion, said Tomp­kins.

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