Pro­posed so­lar zon­ing re­viewed by com­mis­sion

Times-Record - - News - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@caro­linetimesrecord.com

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.

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