The Carroll County Board of Commissioners is considering amending zoning regulations to allow for the use of solar panels in agricultural zoned districts.

Phil Hager, director of the Department of Land Use, Planning and Development, and Jay Voight, county zoning administrator, gave a presentation to the board Thursday about the county's current zoning concerning them, and the possibility of altering existing zoning to allow for more significant use.

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Current zoning regulations outline two uses for solar panels, Hager said.

They are allowed as an accessory use in all zoning districts. Residential zones are limited to the size of the roof when roof-mounted, or no larger than 120 square feet when ground-mounted. In all industrial zones and the business general commercial zone, solar panels may be installed on the roof or roofs of all structures, or no larger than the total area of the roof area when ground-mounted. In the business-neighborhood residential commercial zone, they may occupy the roof or roofs, but are limited to 120 square feet if ground-mounted.

The second use allowed in current zoning is as large-scale industrial facilities. Panels may be installed on the roof of the building on site, and there is no size limit set for ground-mounted systems.

These regulations were adopted by the prior board of commissioners in 2014. They were part of a legislative package that had included regulations for solar panel use in agriculture zoned areas, but because of opposition from the public, the board chose not to adopt these, Hager said.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, asked if the creation of a new agriculture zoning district would be a solution to allow owners of land in an agricultural zone to install solar panels.

Hager said officials could not create a new zoning district unless they first reopened the recently adopted 2014 Master Plan for public comment.

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said the board was already planning to do something similar by creating a zone between business general and business-neighborhood residential, and asked why this would not require a new public comment period for the master plan but a new zoning district for agriculture would.

Hager said when the Planning and Zoning Commission was creating the plan, it incorporated into it new land-use designations that call for the creation of a new commercial zone, but did not do so with agriculture designations.

"The zoning changes to occur as part of master plan is due to what is in the master plan," Hager said. "In order to create something for solar panels we would need something in the master plan to explain that; so we would need another public comment period and to reopen the master plan."

Hager said he was not opposed to this idea if this was the direction the commissioners wanted to proceed. Weaver said the priority of this board is to plan for the future, and they cannot afford to overlook the possibility of solar energy as an alternative.

"We need to look to the future, and this is one idea that I feel we need to move ahead on," Weaver said.

He also said the county's Agricultural Commission, a group comprising agricultural and farming experts throughout Carroll, is reviewing the legislation that was not adopted last year that would've allowed for solar panel use in agricultural zoning districts.

The commissioners said before any decision can be made concerning whether they should reopen the master plan to create designations allowing solar panels, they should wait until the commission presents is findings to the board. This will be scheduled for a future board of commissioners meeting.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

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Commissioners look to wind as energy source

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners is looking to capitalize on wind as an alternative source of energy.

The previous Board of Commissioners had considered wind energy to supplement electrical costs but discarded the idea for several reasons, said Phil Hager, director of the Department of Planning, Land Use and Development.

The price of wind turbine generators is so cost-prohibitive, the only government agency that can afford to use it is the federal government, Hager said.

"Even other states, like Pennsylvania, who have them, rarely have more than one windmill going at a time because of the cost to power them," he said.

Additionally, studies have shown that sufficient wind does not blow in Carroll County to efficiently produce energy from such turbines, he said.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said he first brought this up for discussion Feb. 26 to allow for broader, less restrictive use in residential areas.

Current zoning regulations allow for the use of wind turbines on the roofs of residential units but mandate that prior to installation, a structural engineer must assess each roof for stability. Frazier said he would like to remove this restriction.

"In California, they have wind turbines that can be mounted on residences; it's quick and easy, and the structural engineer part is taken out," Frazier said. "It should be the homeowner's responsibility to ensure the roof can handle it structurally."

He suggested the language of zoning regulations pertaining to wind turbines be amended to only "strongly suggest" an engineer perform such an assessment.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, asked whether it is really practical to allow this more easily because roofs are not designed to withstand horizontal thrust and stress, only vertical.

Rothschild suggested a limitation to the size of the wind turbine to "ensure the roof can handle it."

Both Weaver and Frazier said the decision concerning these issues should be up to the individual homeowner, not government.

The board directed county staff to conduct a feasibility study on the use of wind energy in all districts, particularly on existing structures, and attempt to determine a reasonable threshold for size that would eliminate the need for a structural engineer.

Staff will present their findings at a future commissioner meeting.

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