Seattle Firm Proposing Solar Projects in South Anne Arundel County

A Seattle company is proposing to build solar projects on three South Anne Arundel County farms is holding a public meeting this evening to discuss the project and field questions and comments.

According to The Capital Gazette,

The installations could cover about 10 acres of each farm in solar panels, plus access roadways and infrastructure required to convert and distribute the electricity generated at each site.

The company, One Energy Renewables, has been developing medium- sized solar projects on agricultural land across the country.

It was partner in two large projects on the Eastern Shore; the 40,000 solar panel project in a field near Wye Mills providing power for Johns Hopkins and another outside Cambridge, 14,326 panels indirectly supplying The National Aquarium with 40 percent of its electricity needs.

The projects in South County — on a 58-acre property on Sands Road, an 82-acre parcel on Bayard Road and a 50-acre plot on Franklin Gibson Road — would likely have under 8,000 panels each.

According to its website, the company leases land from farm families.

“You’ll be harvesting a renewable resource that promises a stable and long-term source of revenue for your family – one that doesn’t fluctuate with global commodity markets, or vary based on weather events year to year,” the site reads.

Once the lease is up, or the panels have exhausted their usefulness, One Energy says it removes all equipment and infrastructure and the land can be farmed again.

But some farmers wonder if this is the best use of agricultural land.

“I thought the county was committed to preserving agriculture in South County,” said John Ball, who owns 160 acres on Franklin Gibson Road.

“That’s not agriculture, that’s light industrial, if you ask me,” Ball said.

He also questioned the wisdom of plopping down such a complex in the middle of several farms in agricultural preservation.

“The county has to make a decision: Is it going to preserve agriculture or chase solar farms?” he said.

Read the full article for more information.

Proposed Bill Would Protect Montgomery Burial Sites from Development

Old cemeteries and burial grounds that may lay in the path of new development would receive better protection under legislation introduced Tuesday by a trio of Montgomery County Council members.

The county has a list of more than 250 burial sites established by churches, families, and enslaved and free black communities, some dating back to the early 18th century. But in many cases, the boundaries are not exact, and the information is fragmentary.

According to The Washington Post,

The measure requires that when land earmarked for new construction includes a burial site listed in county records, the developer must “use best historical and archaeological practices” to establish the exact location. Projects would not be approved without plans in place to protect those sites during construction and maintain them going forward.

“We in Montgomery County owe it to our many historic founders and historic residents to pay them the respects they deserve,” said Council member Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), who co-sponsored the bill with Council member George Leventhal (D-At Large) and Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda). Officials said Howard and Prince George’s counties have similar laws.

Planning officials say the presence of cemeteries on land to be developed is now relatively rare. The bill strengthens provisions aimed at preventing what appears to have happened in Bethesda’s Westbard neighborhood during the 1960s, when an early-20th-century African American cemetery probably was disturbed and paved over during construction of an apartment high-rise.

A proposal to redevelop that area is now at the center of a bitter dispute pitting nearby Macedonia Baptist Church against the property owner, Regency Centers, and the county. Church members want to see a museum on the site commemorating the black community that existed along River Road until the mid-20th century. The matter is in mediation.

Useful Links

Bill 24-17 – Land Use Information – Burial Sites

Read the full article from The Washington Post

City Officials, Cycling Advocates Reach Settlement on Baltimore Bike Line

The Potomac Street protected bike lane will remain in place after cycling advocates and Baltimore officials reached a settlement agreement on Tuesday evening.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

Bikemore, a leading advocacy group, had sued the city after officials announced plans to tear out the cycle track after hearing residents’ concerns that it would make it harder for emergency vehicles to travel down the street.

Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh, confirmed the settlement but declined to comment further.

Bikemore won a temporary restraining order this month preventing the city from demolishing the protected bike lane. The matter was set to go to court on Wednesday. Instead, bike advocates said they would be outside the courthouse Wednesday morning handing out coffee and donuts to supporters to thank them.

Bikemore members said on their website that they would sit down with city officials to help hammer out a modified plan. That plan would then be released to the public for a two-week comment period.

The suit came as Pugh ordered a review of all bike lanes and parking spaces. Cyclists and their advocates fear a rollback of what they see as gains in making Baltimore more bike friendly. They also point out that millions of dollars in planning and construction money would be wasted.

Bikemore had previously alleged in court the city’s decision “reversed five years of extensive planning and public input” and was “arbitrary and capricious.”

But neighbors near some of the bike lanes say they actually make streets more dangerous due to bad design. They argue the design encourages crashes, eliminates parking spaces and prevents emergency vehicles from traveling.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Judge Protects Baltimore Bike Lane

Read the full article from The Baltimore Sun

Maryland Board Approves New Rating System for Schools

Every public school in Maryland will be judged on a five-star rating system beginning next school year, under a plan the state school board approved Tuesday.

The rating system, which will award one star to the lowest performing schools and five stars to the highest performing, is designed to give parents and others a simple guide to the quality of a school.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

For the first time, schools will be judged not just on test scores but on a whole list of factors — including academic achievement, parent surveys, attendance rates and student enrollment in a range of subjects.

“We have a new way of providing information to the public on school and district performance,” Andrew Smarick, the president of the state board, said after the vote. He said he hopes the new rating provides more clarity to parents.

Maryland will also identify the bottom five percent of all schools in the state based only on academic indicators, including the percentage of students passing tests and whether student achievement improved over a school year. The state will give those schools more attention and could require they make changes.

The grading system is part of a much larger plan the state board will send this week to the governor and the legislature for review. The lawmakers’ input is considered advisory, but the board can choose to make changes to the plan before it must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in September.

Every state is required under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, to submit a school accountability plan that spells out the guidelines for how schools will be judged through 2030.

For more than a decade schools have been judged largely on how their students scored on reading and math, an emphasis which caused some principals to focus solely on those subjects in the early grades at the expense of social studies, science and the arts.

Under ESSA elementary and middle schools will get points based on whether students are enrolled in fine arts, social studies, physical education and health classes. Middle schools also will be judged on how their students score on social studies and science tests the state is introducing over the next several years.

High schools will be judged on the percentage of students that complete advanced classes, master various career skills, meet University of Maryland entry requirements, or get a high enough SAT score.

ESSA replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, a law that was in effect for more than a decade and was widely criticized for being too punitive because schools were judged almost solely on test scores. ESSA was designed to give more authority back to the states for how schools are held accountable.

The rating system will attempt to take into account the progress of students in low achieving schools, not just whether students pass tests. The plan does not lay out how the different star levels will be determined. Board members said five star schools would have to be in the top percentage and meet all of the targets set for students of different races and economic backgrounds, among other groups.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: General Assembly Overrides Hogan Veto on Struggling Schools Bill

Read the full article from The Baltimore Sun

Prince George’s Council to Hold Zoning Rewrite Town Hall Meeting

The Prince George’s County Council, in partnership with the Prince George’s County Planning Department, is encouraging county residents to attend a Zoning Rewrite Town Hall Meeting on Monday, July 17, 2017, from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., at the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.

According to a press release,

The County Council and Prince George’s County Planning Department, are conducting a comprehensive update of the County’s 50-year-old Zoning Ordinance to streamline zoning laws and create a user-friendly document supporting the County’s vision for smart growth, economic development and improved quality of life for residents.

Council Chair Derrick L. Davis (D) – District 6 says citizen involvement in the Zoning Rewrite process is critical.

“Updating the County’s zoning policies is among the most important undertakings of the Council in its role as the County’s land use authority. Residents deserve a leaner, clearer zoning process to be better informed about development and to play a more significant role in shaping the future of our County. I encourage all County residents and stakeholders to attend this Zoning Rewrite Town Hall meeting and share their thoughts and ideas concerning the Zoning Rewrite and its various modules.”

Presenters for the Council’s Zoning Rewrite Town Hall Meeting are Clarion Associates’ Directors Don Elliott and Craig Richardson. Chief of Countywide Planning, Derick Berlage; Zoning Rewrite Project Manager, Chad Williams; and Zoning Rewrite Outreach Specialist Brittney Drakeford will also be on hand to answer audience questions and participate during the discussion portion of the Town Hall meeting.

To watch live, please visit: http://pgccouncil.us/townhall

Read the full press release for more information.

Anne Arundel Councilman, MACo Board Member Jerry Walker Discusses County Issues on Local News Program

Anne Arundel Councilman Jerry Walker was recently featured on Comcast Newsmakers, a short-form news platform where leaders and innovators exchange ideas and tackle the issues facing communities across Maryland.

Councilman Walker discussed the role of MACo in Annapolis, his role within the organization, and a variety of issues affecting county governments.

Walker currently serves as First Vice President on the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) Board of Directors and serves on MACo’s Legislative Committee.

Click on the image above to view the video.

MACo’s Weekly County News & Notes… from Twitter

The social media site Twitter has become a fast-moving setting for news, information, and advocacy on public affairs. We welcome followers of MACo’s own Twitter feed for updates from the Conduit Street blog and other MACo hot topics, and often use Twitter to reach our own audience, and to hear from others following the same issues as county leaders.

Here are some tweets that caught our eye this week:

For more news and information:

Follow MACo
Follow Executive Director Michael Sanderson
Follow NACo
See Tweets on #mdpolitics

Gov. Hogan Taps New Members of State Education Board

Governor Larry Hogan announced Thursday he has tapped four new members of the Maryland State Board of Education.

The Washington Post reports,

Hogan’s picks included David Steiner, executive director for the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and a professor of education at Hopkins, and Michael Phillips, senior pastor of the Kingdom Life Church in Baltimore and founder of the Better Life Community Development Corp.

The governor also appointed Justin Hartings, president of Biaera Technologies of Hagerstown and a former member of the Washington County Board of Education in western Maryland, and Kyle Smith, a student at North Point High School in Charles County. Smith, who becomes the state board’s student member, was recommended by the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

“These talented individuals represent our administration’s continued commitment to ensuring that our already strong education system continues to improve while providing a world-class education for all Maryland students,” Hogan (R) said in a statement.

The new members, who must be confirmed by the state Senate, join a board predominantly appointed by Hogan. Two of the board’s 12 members were appointed by former governor Martin O’Malley (D)–Guffrie Smith and Madhu Sidhu.

 A spokeswoman for Hogan said Hartings and Phillips were appointed May 22. Steiner, previously dean of the School of Education at Hunter College and New York state’s commissioner of education, was named April 20.
Read the full article for more information.

Calvert Commissioners OK Funds for License Plate Readers

The Calvert County Commissioners Tuesday approved a Sheriff’s Office request for over $215,000 for the purchase of two license plate readers (LPRs). The money is coming from the county government’s Safety Camera Revenue Account.

The Bay Net reports,

The Safety Camera Revenue Account, a component of the Safety for Students Act, is funded by money realized from fines levied against drivers who exceed the speed limit in school zones where the cameras are set up. Another portion of the account is being used to purchase body cameras for several deputies. That allocation is within the fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget, which takes effect July 1.

The request for the purchase of two LPRs was made last month by Sheriff Mike Evans [R]. “The LPRs will effectively capture license plate information of all vehicles entering and exiting via routes 260 and 4, which is important because a majority of bank robberies and armed robberies of businesses have historically occurred in Northern Calvert County,” Assistant Sheriff Lt. Colonel Dave McDowell stated in a memo to the commissioners. “This is part of the sheriff’s plan to use the Safety for Students program revenue source to purchase one-time, high priority expenditures for equipment and other operational needs.”

No member of the public spoke at the public hearing, however, a few of the commissioners had plenty to say prior to a final vote. Despite assurances from McDowell and Evans that data recorded by the LPRs was not to be used for nefarious purposes, Commissioner Pat Nutter [R – District 2] indicated he was opposed to the plan. “I don’t want to end up in ‘big brother’ syndrome—that’s where America is headed,” said Nutter, a retire sheriff’s deputy.

Evans stated that the county already has LPRs and “they have been a great tool.” The sheriff declared have the LPRs in place at the county’s north border would help address a serious public safety issue. “We are only looking for people who are breaking the law,” said Evans.

Commissioners’ Vice President Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R – District 3] stated that the LPRs were “the electronic version” of human eyewitnesses.

“Most people move here for the quality of life,” said Commissioner Mike Hart [R – District 1], adding that public safety contributed to the quality. “I would like to expand it [LPR program]. This is going to give police so many more pairs of eyes.

Still, Nutter argued that have motor vehicle license plates observed and recorded was compromising an individual’s privacy. “There’s no privacy, Pat. It’s just a part of life,” said Commissioners’ President Tom Hejl [R – At large], who is also a law enforcement veteran.

Sensing there might not be an end to the discussion, Hejl called for a vote. The board voted 4-to-1, with Nutter opposed, to closing the public record and approving the budget resolution.

Read the full article for more information.

Howard Schools, University of Maryland Partner to Find Most Efficient Bus Routes

Transportation officials with Howard County public schools revealed plans Thursday to maximize school bus efficiency, using a mathematical modeling program developed by University of Maryland students to determine the best bus routes should schools start and dismissal times change in the coming year.

The Baltimore Sun reports,

Last week, the Board of Education motioned to delay any changes to start and dismissal times until at least the 2018-19 school year to give administrators, staff and parents time to prepare for schedule adjustments.

While any potential changes to the start and dismissal times will not be implemented next year, school system director of transportation David Ramsay said transportation is a major factor in the decision-making process. Alternative start and dismissal times could not only increase the number of general and specialized bus fleets needed, but also increase overall costs.

“Transportation has, historically, been the area in which there are cost implications with adjusting bell times,” Ramsay said. “The tools that we had weren’t sufficient to the degree that we were happy with to really analyze this problem.”

Haghani, a Fulton resident, said the tool uses a mathematical optimization model that can minimize or maximize a particular function. In this case, he said, the goal was to minimize the total number of buses as well as the deadhead time, the time when buses are running without any students onboard.

“A solution that is 1 percent worse can lead to three or four more buses,” Haghani said.

Using data provided by the school system, Haghani said students used the bus start and end times, location and order of stops and the deadhead distance in the program.

“The optimization model tries to match up these routes together in a way that as many routes as possible are served by one bus,” he said. “We had a working model in about a month, but when we ran it, it took a long time.”

Five months later, Haghani said, results for each given scenario were available in under a minute.

While Haghani said the model was free-of-charge to the school system, Ramsay added that the school system paid $5,000 toward the QUEST program’s involvement and an additional $24,800 for consultation with Haghani. Other vendor price quotes for developing a model had exceeded $50,000, Ramsay said.

Once the school board makes a decision on school start and dismissal times, Ramsay said they will give Haghani a spreadsheet outlining the proposal to calculate the most efficient bus routes for the county’s elementary, middle and high schools.

Read the full article for more information.