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News Maryland Howard County Ellicott City

County Council to vote on controversial new zone, solar farm, growth tiers

The Howard County Council is set to decide on three pieces of legislation Monday night that have drawn opposition from county residents.

The council is scheduled to vote on a controversial new floating zone, a map defining growth tiers required by state law and an amendment that would allow a 50-acre solar farm in West Friendship.

Some residents have been upset with the proposed floating zone that they say would give too much freedom to developers while limiting the community's ability to appeal a developer's plans.

The Community Enhancement Floating (CEF) District is intended to allow property owners more flexibility in developing property by allowing zoning changes for parcels of land as small as five acres in the county. The county planning department orginally proposed the minimum acreage be two acres, but amendments to the bill would change that minimum to five acres.

The council is also scheduled to vote on an act amending PlanHoward 2030, Howard County's general plan. The county is required by a state bill intended to preserve the Chespeake Bay to define growth tiers designating development levels.

Levels range from Tier I, which is the most developed area with public services, to Tier IV, which is zoned for agriculture and conservation. The county's proposed map outlines Tier III as properties currently designated as rural residential with Tier IV including properties zoned rural conservation.

Some Howard County farmers have argued that designating their property Tier IV will eliminate much of the land's value because they no longer would have the option of selling it for development.

Finally, the council is expected to vote on an act that would amend the county zoning regulations to allow commercial solar facilities as a conditional use in the rural conservation and rural residential zoning districts.

Bith Energy, a Baltimore-based energy engineering and technical services consulting farm, has asked for the amendmen allowing them to build a 50- to 60-acre solar farm on Nixon's Farm in West Friendship. If approved by the council, Nixon's Farm will become the county's first farm to generate solar electricity sold directly to an energy company.

The County Council's legislative session starts at 7:30 p.m. at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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