Carroll considers zoning changes to allow increased solar uses

Carroll County planning and zoning officials have received "quite a few phone calls" from residents regarding a solar conversion facility on their property.

But as the officials consider how zoning could or should be amended to allow this use, some county commissioners say not so fast.

"We're talking about enabling construction of these devices on property where it's never been considered in the zoning code before," Commissioner Richard Rothschild said Tuesday.

Jay Voight, county zoning administrator, said his office has fielded calls from business owners, farmers, and owners of industrial zoned property regarding the possibility of building a solar conversion facility.

A solar energy conversion facility is a solar array that produces electricity to be sold to the grid.

Currently, county zoning only allows a solar conversion facility on industrial zoned property.

Homeowners are allowed to install solar panels on their property in residential areas as an accessory use, if they apply for the appropriate building permits, according to Voight.

For solar panels to be considered an accessory use, they must only serve the home or business on the property and be reasonably sized compared to the home or business on site.

County Planning Director Phil Hager said the county planning department agrees that county homeowners should have the ability to "reasonably utilize" solar panels on their property to help offset energy costs.

But planning officials are still undecided if, or how, solar conversion facilities should be permitted on land zoned for agriculture.

"If we add this list of uses as something that is permitted, then we could see large chunks of our agriculturally zoned properties being absorbed with this particular use," Hager said.

Properties in agricultural preservation are not eligible to house solar conversion facilities, according to Hager.

County officials briefed the Board of Carroll County Commissioners on the topic on Dec. 3 to get commissioners' input and to inform them that the planning department plans to examine its solar regulations across all zoning districts.

Hager said the discussion was an "interim briefing" and his department has not prepared any specific proposals for the commissioners.

Commissioners were split on the issue during the Tuesday meeting

Commissioners Rothschild and Haven Shoemaker argued that solar panels are unattractive and that changing the current zoning could bring excessive solar development to the county.

Commissioners Dave Roush and Doug Howard said that in restricting solar uses, the county would infringe upon the property rights of the homeowner looking to build any type of solar structure.

"We're not talking about restricting anybody's property rights," Shoemaker said. "You're talking about creating property rights that don't currently exist."

Commissioner Robin Frazier was absent from the meeting.

The board asked Hager to gather public input before it moves forward.

"This is a much bigger discussion, really, than just a briefing and a hearing," Howard said. "We really need to engage the community in the discussion."

The topic was first presented to the county Planning Commission Nov. 6. The commission has yet to render a recommendation on any potential changes.


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