Proposed solar zoning reviewed by commission
DENTON — As a six-month moratorium on new solar energy systems in Caroline County draws to a close, the Caroline County commissioners got their first look at proposed changes to the county’s zoning code concerning those systems.
Caroline County Department of Planning and Codes Director Katheleen Freeman said at the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19, the moratorium was put in place in May, specifically so county staff could write language to address largescale commercial systems, which were not anticipated when the section on solar energy systems was first written.
Large-scale commercial systems are those that generate more than 2 megawatts — enough to power 400 homes.
The proposed changes, developed and recommended by a work group and the Caroline County Planning Commission, include a maximum total number of acres in the county allowed to be used for solar energy systems, and measures to protect the aesthetics for nearby property owners, Freeman said.
A public hearing on the proposed changes is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, during the commissioners’ meeting in their conference room in the Caroline County Circuit Courthouse.
The entire ordinance, 2017-2, is available for public review on the county’s website, carolinemd.org, by clicking on the Documents Center link, then the County Commissioners Office and Pending Legislation tabs.
Freeman said the proposed code would allow a maximum total of 3,000 acres to be occupied by solar energy systems, about 2 percent of the acreage in the county currently taxed as agricultural land.
Per the proposed language, commercial systems would not be allowed in designated transferable development rights (TDR) receiving areas, Freeman said.
Also, if a system is proposed for a piece of land within a growth area in an incorporated town’s comprehensive plan, Freeman said, the town must be notified before the site plan can be approved.
To avoid negative impacts on the scenic quality of the areas surrounding commercial systems, Freeman said, the proposed language requires screening buffers of trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses, or a pollinator habitat.
A maximum system panel height of 15 ft. is already in the code, Freeman said. The proposed rewritten code would not change that.
The code changes would affect the site approval process, Freeman said.
The proposed changes create a two-step process, Freeman said. First, the Board of Zoning Appeals will review a concept plan before deciding whether or not to grant a special use exception. If one is granted, the Planning Commission will review a major site plan, including engineer drawings, before granting final approval.
Chief of Staff Sara Visintainer said large-scale commercial systems already require an additional approval process at the state level.