Caroline County Tackles Solar Siting and Tax Issues

Two work groups formed at the behest of the Caroline County Board of County Commissioners to study solar siting and tax issues held a joint inaugural meeting on May 25. The Work Groups heard information presentations from MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp and Open Renewables President Cyrus Tashakkori.

The Commissioners formed the work groups in response to several utility scale solar projects that have been proposed in the county and want to make sure that land use and tax structures are in place to properly manage such projects going forward. The membership of the work groups is drawn from different stakeholder groups and includes county, agricultural, utility, and energy developer representatives.

Tashakkori provided an overview of: (1) how solar panels work; (2) the construction processes for installing and decommissioning utility scale solar sites; (3) operational impacts of solar sites; (4) taxation issues; (5) the status of utility scale solar in Caroline County; and (6) best practices for utility scale solar. Knapp discussed: (1) how the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) application process works; (2) CPCN process changes due to the passage of the 2017 MACo legislative initiative on solar siting (HB 1350); and (3) factors and issues the work groups may wish to consider in their deliberations.

The work groups are expected to issue recommendations and options to the Commissioners at the conclusion of their work in several months.

Useful Links

MACo Presentation to Caroline County Solar Work Groups

Open Road Renewables Presentation to Caroline County Solar Work Groups

HB 1350 of 2017

 

Harford County Enacts New Incentives to Protect Agricultural Land from Development

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman has signed legislation enacting new incentives to protect key agricultural land that might otherwise be sold for development.

According to a Harford County press release,

The legislation provides cash incentives for farmland owners to enter the county’s existing agricultural preservation program. The new incentives make the county program more competitive with the state’s program, which has limited availability. The new law affects two specified areas adjacent to the county’s development envelope, one in Jarrettsville/Forest Hill and another in Churchville, in support of the Green Infrastructure Plan established in HarfordNEXT, the countywide master plan.

“My administration proposed this legislation to help protect Harford County’s rural heritage and our rural villages, and to focus growth in the areas that are intended for development,” said County Executive Barry Glassman.

Funding for the incentive program will come from a portion of the county’s transfer tax revenue, which also funds Harford County’s existing agricultural preservation program. The one-time cash incentives are estimated at $1,000 per acre and will be based on criteria approved by the Dept. of Planning & Zoning. The incentive payments would be in addition to the price paid to qualifying landowners for selling development rights easements in the existing county program. That price is based on formulas and an evaluation of the underlying land. Once development rights are purchased by the county, new non-agricultural structures that a property owner may build on the property are severely restricted, thereby forestalling residential or other types of development.

The legislation entitled “Agricultural Preservation Easement Incentive” was passed by the County Council on May 18; it becomes effective July 17, 2017. The full text of the legislation is published on the county website at http://hcgweb01.harfordcountymd.gov/Legislation/Bill/BillDetail/17-005.

Read the full press release for more information.

MACo Highlights County Needs to Climate Change Adaptation Working Group

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp and Maryland Municipal League (MML) Government Relations Director Candace Donoho outlined local government needs on climate change adaptation before the Maryland Commission on Climate Change’s Adaptation and Response Working Group on May 22. Knapp stressed that local governments had three key needs: (1) information; (2) resources; and (3) no new planning or land use mandates.

“Adaptation” is the term used to cover how governments, businesses, and citizens should respond to the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather, severe heat, flooding, and sea level rise. The Working Group is formulating recommendations to the Commission on what the State should provide to local governments for climate change adaption. Knapp and Donoho were asked to address the Working Group, which is chaired by Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Mark Belton.

In his presentation, Knapp stated that State information on climate change adaptation should be accurate, practical, and avoid linkage with political agendas. He stressed that while the State, federal government, and other participating stakeholders maintained useful information for counties, the State could offer a “one step” webpage with links to all of these resources gathered into one place. Knapp also stressed the importance of local government adaptation case studies, with lessons learned from both good and bad outcomes. Knapp cited previous planning projections by the Coast Smart Council regarding sea level rise and Town of Crisfield in Somerset County.

Regarding resources, Knapp stated that State funding support for counties is critical. While acknowledging that State monies were limited, Knapp argued that county funding needs for adaptation planning were variable and funding could be targeted to assist those jurisdictions with the most need. Additionally, Knapp noted that State adaptation funding could also be targeted where rebuilding is already taking place if the additional funding could further strengthen adaptation. Knapp noted that the rebuilding of downtown Ellicott City in Howard County after massive flooding might have benefited from such funding.

Finally, Knapp said that MACo would oppose any new planning mandates regarding adaptation. Knapp stressed that counties were addressing climate change through a wide variety of policies and documents and not just their comprehensive plans.

Donoho’s comments were similar to Knapp’s, highlighting the need for flexibility given the vast size and capability differences among Maryland’s municipalities. Donoho also discussed the need for technical information and money. Donoho noted MML’s firm opposition to new or additional planning mandates, noting that local governments are still working to integrate planning mandates from previous years and that many adaptation policies are being carried out through other means than the comprehensive plan.

Both Knapp and Donoho stressed the need for ongoing communication by the State with MACo, MML, counties, and municipalities. Such communication could be done directly or through regional meetings and should include both elected and non-elected local officials.

After a question and answer period Belton thanked Knapp and Donoho for their information and pledged that the Working Group would work to actively communicate with local governments as it finalizes its recommendations to the Commission. The Working Group expressed interest in participating in MML’s fall conference and MACo’s winter conference to host forums on climate change adaptation.

Useful Links

Maryland Commission on Climate Change Webpage

 

Queen Anne’s County Commissioners Approve Land Preservation Funds

Using state grants and matching funds, Queen Anne’s County Commissioners voted May 9, to allocate about $500,000 of county earmarked funds for preservation assistance — which will result in a total of $2.5 million to preserve farmland in the county.

The Kent Island Bay Times reports,

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation will match each county dollar with two state dollars to prevent, forever, farmland from being converted to residential or commercial use. Created by the General Assembly in 1977, the MALPF purchases agricultural preservation easements that forever restrict development on prime farmland and woodland and has permanently preserved land in Maryland.

Donna Landis-Smith of the Queen Anne’s County Soil Conservation District told the commissioners that the maximum they could invest was $1.3 million; however, the funds budgeted for MALPF were just shy of half of a million dollars. That half a million dollars of county funds currently earmarked for MALPF coverts to about $2.5 million. Smith said that there are eight properties in the county in the current easement cycle that was submitted to the state to participate in MALPF.

Commissioner Jim Moran said by using the budgeted amount — much of which comes from agricultural transfer taxes — the county could probably fund four or five of the applicants.

According to the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation FY16 Annual Report, more than 300,000 acres statewide have permanently been preserved. Queen Anne’s County has 166 easements totaling 28,464 acres of preserved farmland and ranks third in the state for total acres preserved.

Read the full article for more information.

Annapolis Struggles to Balance Growth With Traffic, Quality of Life Issues

A Capital Gazette article (2017-05-07) highlighted the ongoing challenges a developed area faces as it continues to plan and grow. The article focused on the city of Annapolis, and the struggle the municipality faces as it seeks to balance its existing quality of life against the need for further growth and development. According to the article, Annapolis is facing significant residential growth:

Based on the city’s most recent report, there are 689 proposed residential units in the development pipeline and city officials expect more growth as developers feel more confidence in the economy.

That number — listed in the April monthly report — doesn’t include retirement communities, which could bring another influx of 529 age-restricted units for retiring seniors or those that need health care. Those projects are listed on the report, but their unit counts aren’t listed as they are not traditional residential properties. That number also doesn’t include new developments near Annapolis, such as the 293-unit apartment complex behind the Double T Diner.

The article described the strains large developments can place on traffic and services while at the same time providing new tax revenue and a shield against rising property taxes. The article discussed the city’s recent push for requiring impact studies that take into account other approved developments, as well as the need for a comprehensive look at development:

This prevents developments from building in a vacuum, [Annapolis Chief of Comprehensive Planning Sally] Nash said. As for the comprehensive plan, it’s Nash’s job to ensure it is met when approving developments.

That can be a challenge when the comprehensive plan has conflicting goals, such as pushing for the city to have 50 percent tree canopy while also targeting areas, some of which have forested acres, as places for potential growth.

“It’s a balance,” Nash said. …

Some of the struggles with the slew of development is in large part due to older projects that have been moving through the development pipeline, said Mayor Mike Pantelides.

These new developments show that Annapolis is a desirable place to be, but there needs to be consideration on the size of the incoming projects, like Parkeside Preserve, which are too big, said Pantelides. …

“I’m certainly not happy with the way things are going,” Pantelides said. “These large, massive ones, at the end of the day it doesn’t benefit the residents of Annapolis.”

A greater focus needs to be placed on the potential for growth as well as projects that have already applied, said Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8. …

“One of the problems is that when planning looks at things, they only take on what has been applied for,” Arnett said. “They don’t take a comprehensive approach to looking at traffic.”

The article also discussed the City’s beginning of its Forest Drive Sector Study, which will take a long-term development approach to setting zoning around Forest Drive, Bay Ridge Road, Aris T. Allen Boulevard, and Eastport.

 

Frederick County Council Approves Solar Bill

Solar arrays — albeit in a limited form — could soon be allowed on agricultural land in Frederick County after the County Council approved a bill to govern their size and placement Tuesday.

In a 4-2 vote, the council OK’d a compromise bill more than a year in the making that will allow solar arrays of up to 75 acres on certain parts of agricultural land in the county.

According to The Frederick News-Post,

“I think we are beginning the process of embracing solar in Frederick County, but it’s going to take us a little while,” the bill’s sponsor, Councilwoman M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D), said before voting. “This is where we are at the time.”

She was joined in supporting the bill by Democrats Jessica Fitzwater and Jerry Donald, as well as Council President Bud Otis, who is unaffiliated.

Republican councilmen Tony Chmelik and Billy Shreve voted against the bill; the council’s third Republican, Kirby Delauter, was absent from the meeting.

Shreve offered four amendments to the bill, none of which ultimately passed. He also read statistics from a poll conducted on behalf of Coronal Energy — one of the solar companies looking to install a large solar array on Frederick farmland — that showed a majority of the residents they contacted would support “more large scale utility solar farms.”

“The last thing we want to do is kill green jobs. We don’t want to kill clean energy,” Shreve said. “I don’t know why the Democrats up here are going this direction and absolutely do not support solar energy in Frederick County. This bill proves it.”

But Keegan-Ayer said the bill allowed the industry — and those farmers who want to be part of it — to move forward in a measured way, something that seemed unlikely when the county was considering more restrictive legislation in 2016 and earlier this year.

The new bill creates a floating zone for large commercial solar arrays that can be applied to agricultural properties from 10 to 750 acres. Solar panels can cover only 10 percent of the tillable acres of the parcel or multiple contiguous parcels, up to 75 acres. The bill also prevents commercial solar development on land with prime farmland soils, as identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s soil survey of Frederick County.

For land within a 2-mile buffer along each side of U.S. 15 from Frederick to the Pennsylvania border, solar applicants would have the burden of ensuring that the projects would not be visible from the road, which is designated as part of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.

Commercial solar development on limited industrial and general industrial zones is still allowed. Homes and businesses would be allowed to have accessory panels to generate up to 200 percent of a property’s energy usage.

Keegan-Ayer and Chmelik each discussed a proposal from the solar industry that would have implemented a county-wide 1.5 percent cap on agricultural solar fields, as opposed to the cap on individual parcels in the bill.

Capping it at 1.5 percent of farmland would have been about 3,000 acres, Keegan-Ayer said.

“So 3,000 acres of our prime farmland could be taken out of production to put solar panels on it. I’m not sure that that’s truly where we want to go yet,” Keegan-Ayer said.

Chmelik, though, shared a concern that the smaller parcels could lead to a sort of “solar sprawl” with many smaller fields dotting the landscape.

“Do I want to see one large solar array, or do I want to pass multiple ones on my way?” Chmelik asked, imagining a drive across the county. “… I can’t support it because I think it’s going to, in the end, potentially cause us to have this patchwork of solar arrays all over, rather than being able to concentrate them in certain areas.”

Donald said he originally supported more restrictive legislation, but came around to supporting this bill.

“This is one of those situations where people kind of came together and came up with the best plan they could. And sometimes that’s what we have to go with,” Donald said, noting the newness of the industry in the county.

The bill will move on to the county executive’s office. Unless vetoed, it will take effect in 60 days, according to the county charter.

Read the full article for more information.

ESLC Puts Large Chunk of Kent County Land into Conservation Easement

Staff from the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) and Maryland Environmental Trust (MET) signed 678 acres of Oldfield Point Farms, LLC. into a permanent conservation easement, forever protecting what land conservationists consider a “keystone Eastern Shore property” – meaning a large, intact farm visible from the road, containing waterfront property, and home to wildlife. The Starkey family, owners of Oldfield Point Farms, worked with ESLC and its partner organizations to make the easement a reality.

According to a press release,

The easement is a big win for preserving open space and prime agricultural land on the Eastern Shore. This success was made possible by the generosity of the Starkey family and the efforts of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, MET, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, MD State Highway Administration, and Kent County.

The keystone property has been considered a priority by ESLC for many years, as the number of large Eastern Shore farms that haven’t already been subdivided or preserved is relatively small. The conservation easement protects about one-half of Oldfield Point Farms from large scale development, and preserves the natural resources and prime farmland for the production of diversified grain and vegetable crops.

Also resulting from the easement, a portion of the property’s shoreline now provides public access on a scenic shoreline along one of the Eastern Shore’s most pristine waterways.

“Since 2007, MET, working in partnership with Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, has completed seven easements along the Byway protecting more than 2,500 acres of scenic lands”, adds Jared Parks, Conservation Easement Program Manager for Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. “In addition to protecting lands on the scenic byway, these efforts have also conserved important wildlife habitat and prime agricultural lands. We are very pleased to help protect this important property, further securing the scenic, rural, ecological and agricultural character of this landscape.”

It should be noted that this easement would not have been possible without funding allocated from Program Open Space – the state’s financial and technical assistance provided for the planning, acquisition, and/or development of recreation land or open space areas. ESLC also notes that without the tireless work of former Congressman, now ESLC Environmental Education Director, Wayne Gilchrest, to have federal money earmarked for the preservation of land along the National Scenic Byway, this environmental win may have not happened.

Visit the ESLC webpage for more information.

County Executive Offers Thoughts on Cecil’s Proposed Land Use Tiers

In a Baltimore Sun op-ed (2017-04-28), Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy expresses frustration with the State’s required land use tiers but also describes how Cecil County is planning to move forward to implement a tier map based on the report of a Tier Map Advisory Committee created by the County Executive. Cecil has considered several previous proposed tier maps. From the op-ed:

In 2012 my predecessor, County Executive Tari Moore, adopted a growth tier map proposal as required by the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (SB 236) passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley. This version was formally adopted by the County Council four years later, in December 2016. As the current county executive, elected in November of 2016, I was cognizant that my predecessor did not intend for the current map to be a permanent solution. Under the constraints of time, she knew this needed more study. As a result, I created a Tier Map Advisory Committee that was charged with preparing a new tier map to replace the one adopted in 2012. That committee recently concluded its duties and recommended that the 2012 map remain in full force and effect since it protects property rights and safeguards our comprehensive plan.

A dispassionate and objective reading of SB 236 leads to the inescapable conclusion that the purported goal of environmental protection underlying the legislation is to control growth. …

One cannot help feeling insulted when the state of Maryland passes legislation that abrogates local efforts and prerogatives regarding land use. After all, are we citizens of the county not intelligent enough to determine the best course of action to follow regarding future development?

The five members of the Tier Map Advisory Committee are individuals who brought broad experience with local land use to the table. The committee members were objective and did not taint the review process with personal agendas or vendettas. The Tier Map Advisory Committee provided a recommendation that reflects what is best for all of the landowners in the county, in harmony with the goals and objectives of our local comprehensive plan. …

In closing, my goal is to implement a common sense approach to growth that is aligned with state law. The essence of this land use philosophy is to provide a sustainable future for this county, with a viable agricultural community and undiminished land values. In our efforts to develop a successor tier map, and in our negotiations with the state, we must safeguard the protection of property rights and our comprehensive plan’s goals and objectives. Anything short of this would be a disservice to the hardworking citizens of this County.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins Resigning From 1000 Friends of Maryland

Dru Head shot 3-13
Dru Schmidt-Perkins (Source: 1000 Friends of Maryland)

A 1000 Friends of Maryland press release (2017-05-04) announced the resignation of 1000 Friends’ long-standing Executive Director, Dru-Schmidt Perkins. Schmidt-Perkins will step down in November. From the press release:

Nearly two decades ago, Dru Schmidt-Perkins became the first staff person and Executive Director for 1000 Friends of Maryland after serving on the original all-volunteer coalition for a number of years. Today she announced she is stepping down.

Over her tenure, the organization has had a number of accomplishments, including building strong coalitions at county level to impact future development patterns, creating new programs like the historic tax credit and Rural Legacy, improving programs to clean up toxic brownfields, reducing number of major new subdivisions in rural areas, and ensuring that dedicated funds are actually spent on Program Open Space.

“I made a commitment to stay for two years and now — 19 incredible years later — I have decided it’s time to try something new,” said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, 1000 Friends President and CEO.

1000 Friends of Maryland was formed in 1994 to bring together business, developers, environmentalists, transportation advocates, community leaders, architects, and planners to work toward development patterns in Maryland that are economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. In 1998 the organization hired its first staff and ever since has been a strong voice for smarter growth in Maryland, advocating at the state and local levels. During this time, Schmidt-Perkins became a well-known and respected presence in Annapolis during the Maryland legislative session.

“It has been an honor to be part of the creation of a new organization and movement,” continued Schmidt-Perkins. “Our work to improve land use and development policy has been challenging and exciting, and it has been rewarded with victories large and small. I think back to our start in a single room rented from AIA Baltimore, and now we have a statewide effort operating out of our beautiful brownstone building in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood.”  …

“We thank Dru for her many successful years at the helm of this organization,” said [Chairman of the Board Dale] Sams.  “Dru’s vision, leadership, commitment, dry sense of humor, and boundless energy will be sorely missed at 1000 Friends.”

Schmidt-Perkins says she looks forward to watching the organization continue to have many wins.  “The staff are the finest anywhere and I have been lucky to work with such smart and fun women.”

The press release noted that the Board of Directors will begin the search for a new Executive Director in late spring.

 

Permits, Economic Potential in Focus At Autonomous Vehicles Meeting

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) unveiled a draft of its new permitting process for testing autonomous vehicles in the state at the March 2 meeting of the Maryland Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Working Group. The Working Group also heard a Howard County presentation on the economic development potential of autonomous and connected vehicles. (An autonomous vehicle is a vehicle that can control itself for short or extended periods of time, or does not need a driver at all. A connected vehicle is plugged into a network or other information system and can relay information and possibly receive driving commands through this system.)

Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine Nizer outlined the new permitting process, noting that the process document will be amended as necessary. Entities interested in testing automated vehicles in the state must first complete an Expression of Interest (EOI) form at the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) website. MVA and the Maryland State Police will then work with the applicant to ensure that the applicant complies with both State and federal autonomous vehicle testing requirements. As part of the approval process, MVA will consult with (and where appropriate seek approval from) state agencies and local jurisdictions relevant to the proposed testing. All applicants must also demonstrate proof of liability insurance or a surety bond for no less than $5 million. Nizer noted that one interested company has already filed an EOI.

Howard County Economic Development Authority Executive Vice President Vernon Thompson discussed the county economic development potential and effects posed by autonomous and connected vehicles. Thompson noted that the central region of Maryland was well positioned to become a major autonomous/connected vehicle research and development hub, citing a well educated workforce; access to a key road systems; and robust education and cyber security facilities. Thompson stated requirements to attract companies, including: (1) regulatory support; (2) liability and insurance clarity; (3) technology and engineering scalability; and (4) strong safety and cyber security systems.

Thompson also stressed that counties need to think about the job, planning, and infrastructure impacts of autonomous and connected vehicles as well. For example, he noted that trucking and valet parking jobs would likely disappear, the need for parking garages might be reduced, and the need for curbside access will increase. Cyber security protections will also be vital.

The Working Group also heard presentations from: (1) the United States Army Aberdeen Test Center on its unmanned vehicle research and facilities; and (2) the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (CATT Lab) on its RITIS transportation data collection and analysis system and autonomous and connected vehicle activities. MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp and Howard County Deputy Director of Public Works/Environmental Mark Deluca represented the counties at the meeting. The Working Group’s next meeting has not been scheduled.

Useful Links

CATT Lab Website

Howard County Economic Development Authority Website

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Autonomous Vehicles