New public hearings will take place on MPDU and zoning map legislation.
Frederick, Md (KM). In a 4-to-2 vote on Tuesday, the Frederick County Council approved legislation covering solar facilities. They would be allowed in all zoning districts as an accessory use. Large commercial solar arrays would be allowed in areas zoned light industrial and general industrial.
These large facilities would also be permitted on agricultural land as a floating zone. The area under the floating zone would have to at least 10-acres in size and not to exceed 750-acres. They would not be allowed on land classified as prime farmland by the US Department of Agriculture The project, including all areas of disturbance, would not exceed the lesser of 10% of the tract’s tillable acreages or 75-acres in size. There are also regulations which would make sure these projects would not impact surrounding properties or a view shed from public parks and roadways.
“It will allow the farmers the ability to try it without changing forever the landscape, our farm heritage and losing our historic vistas,” said MC Keegan-Ayer, the sponsor of the bill.
But Councilman Tony Chmelik said he was concerned about the provision which says these areas of disturbance should be 10% of a property’s tillable acreage, or 75-acres in size. He says it would lead to a patchwork of solar arrays, rather than concentrating them in one area of the county. “I’m not saying it’s bad legislation But it could be a problem moving forward If we have complaints about small parcels, what if we get 40 of them out there,” he said.
Councilman Jerry Donald read an e-mail he received from a person who spent 17-years in the solar industry which said 75-acres was “more than capable in handling a large scale solar electric system.”
The Council put off action on amending the law establishing Moderately Priced Dwelling Units, as well as legislation to prohibit County Council members from considering zoning map amendments for a period of six-months prior to the general election and three-months after a general election. Amendments were added to both bills, and they will need to undergo another public hearing which will take place on Tuesday, June 6th.
In other action, the Council approved a fiscal year 2018 operating budget totaling $$776.9-million. Councilman Chmelik said he couldn’t support it because of the number of employees has increased over the past two years. “So if I could take those 60 budget positions out that were for administration or other areas–if I could even half them–then I could have probably funded the teacher’s pay increase earlier; we could maybe have gotten better and more fully staffed fire fighters quicker. We could have done the core things that government should do,” he said.
But Councilman Jessica Fitzwater called the budget is “fiscally responsible.” “I was very impressed looking at the budget appeals and the presentations from staff that many divisions and departments were quite frugal and creative in their request, extending work weeks or sharing positions when able rather than requesting extra staff,” she said. “Budget decisions were made based on proven needs and data.”
Also, the Council adopted the property tax rate for fiscal year 2018, keeping it at $1.06 per $100 of assessed value, which is three-cents more than the constant yield rate, and would have brought in the same amount of revenue in fiscal year 2018 as the county currently collects. Councilman Billy Shreve voted against it, calling it a tax increases for some residents whose property tax assessments went up. “We didn’t make a whole lot of adjustments or any in our budget. You’re taxes are going up. We’re spending more money and the trend can’t continue forever,” he said.
In retaining the current property tax rate, the county is estimated to bring in $5-million in additional revenue in fiscal year 20198.
Councilman Jerry Donald said it was not a tax increase. “A dollar, six is a dollar six to me. And with the assessments, I understand that tax bills will get a bit heavy. Mine will. But it’s a sign that your wealth is growing. You’re in a good area,” he said.
Councilman Donald’s bill covering dog tethering also passed. It prohibits dog owners from keeping their pets tied up for more than four hours. “Tethered dogs are more likely to bite. They lose the fight or flight option. They have no flight; they only have fight. It tends to be small children that wander into their territory, and they’re the ones who are bitten, harmed and killed,” he said.
But Councilman Chmelik said he opposed the bill because it would be difficult for animal control officers to enforce. “Unless you have an officer out there watching it, how are we going to know that the animal was tethered for more than four hours,” he said.
Donald said this legislation would be “complaint driven,'” in that animal control officers would respond if they get a complaint about a dog being mistreated. “They’re looking to solve problems. They’re not looking to harm owners,” he said
The current law says dogs cannot be tethered for more than 10-hours.
By Kevin McManus