Last week, Walkersville’s Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed an application for a 140 acre solar farm on a 151-acre farm at 8300 Biggs Ford Road. The property lies just outside of Walkersville’s Town Limits, but within its “Area of Planning Influence” and its annexation limits.
Under Frederick County Zoning Rules, solar installations are only permitted within a Solar Floating Zone. As a result, the applicants requested a Floating Zone application to the farm owned by former Walkersville Burgess, Ralph Whitmore. This is not the first application for the same project. The previous application was withdrawn when Frederick County reviewed zoning rules for solar farms on agricultural properties in the county.
After failing to gain approval from the Maryland Public Service Commission to allow the project without County approval, applicants returned to apply under new rules from Frederick County. Under the new requirements for a Solar Floating Zone, the application must not:
- be contiguous to a community growth boundary,
- be located within a Priority Preservation Area,
- be located within two miles of the centerline of the right-of-way of U.S. 15,
- be located on prime farmland soils, nor
- exceed the lesser of 10% of the tracts’ tillable acreage or 75 acres in size.
Walkersville’s Planning and Zoning Administrator, Susan Hauver noted that the application failed on all of those requirements, because
- “This property is within the Town’s Community Growth Area and adjoins the Town boundary.”
- “This property is within a Priority Preservation Area on the County Plan.”
- “The property is within two miles of U.S. 15.”
- “The property is located on prime farmland.”
- “The size of the proposed project far exceeds” the standard.
Besides failing all of these requirements, Planning Commissioners noted that there is no “Floating Solar Zone” in Walkersville. A solar installation would not be allowed on properties zoned agricultural in Walkersville.
Commission Member Michael Kuster noted that, the Town’s Comprehensive Plan shows a re-alignment of Dublin Road crossing the property to be directly across Biggs Ford Road from Fountain Rock Road. “This is why I opposed Rutters. There is a plan for a public road, and we just ignored that. I hope the Burgess and Commissioners see that they need to act on these plans before a private company nullifies those plans,” he said.
Commission Chair Dick Brady noted the “vegetative buffer” surrounding the solar farm in Creagerstown fails to meet his definition of an “opaque vegetative buffer,” and questioned the enforcement by the county of such a requirement.
After further discussion, Mr. Kuster moved to recommend the Burgess and Town Commissioners voice their opposition to this application due to its failure to meet the Town’s Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Regulations, use of Prime Farm Land, failure to buffer the town with agricultural uses of land, and the planned realignment of Dublin Road. The motion was quickly seconded by Member David Ennis. The motion passed unanimously with the exception of Commissioner John Zimmerman’s abstention; Commissioner Zimmerman currently farms the property.
The next evening, Walkersville’s Burgess and Commissioners adopted the Planning Commission’s recommendation. Walkersville opposes the application which will be heard before Frederick County’s Planning Commission in November or December.