Two proposals to dramatically alter development patterns in Howard County drew mixed testimony at a County Council hearing Monday night.
Hundreds of acres of Howard County farmland protected from development at taxpayer expense could become fertile ground for commercial solar development. The measure, proposed by Howard County Council Chairman Calvin Ball, pitted farmer against farmer at the hearing.
The bill would allow landowners who sold their development rights to the county by entering their land into preservation to allow commercial solar facilities between 10 to 75 acres.
Some farm groups like the Howard County Farm Bureau support the move, which they said provides a steady income stream for struggling farmers while encouraging clean renewable energy.
"Like the weather we've had last summer, you never know if you're going to drive or drown," said Howie Feaga, president of the Howard County Farm Bureau.
Passed down through generations since 1934, the farm has been protected under the county's farmland preservation program since 1989. But its owners, part of the aging ranks of farmers in the county and throughout the state, wonder how long it will last.
But opponents said the move threatens farmland and undermines the intention of the county's agricultural land preservation program, which aims to preserve the county's best remaining farmland and generally prohibits large-scale non-agricultural development.
Ted Mariani, president of the Concerned Citizens of Western Howard County, said the bill is a clear "violation of trust" between the county and taxpayers who entered land into a preservation program that prohibits industrial and commercial use.
"If this goes through, this might be the biggest bait and switch in the county," said Dan O'Leary, president of the Greater Highland Crossroads Association.
The bill's opponents stressed they were not against renewable energy — only on land intended for preservation.
"We do not need to sacrifice our farmlands in order to support clean energy," said Susan Garber on behalf of the Howard County Citizens Association.
"I don't know when those became a bad thing … suck it up or quit heating up your McMansions," Ziegler said.
Councilman Jon Weinstein's bill to temporarily halt development in the Ellicott City area drew strong support from residents and community groups who pleaded with the county to develop a more comprehensive county-wide stormwater management plan that includes regulations for old developments.
Residents like Woodstock resident Lorli Lilly called the move, which Weinstein hopes will encourage the county to critically examine the effect of development on the area's waterways following the July 30 flood, a "no brainer."
The move halts new commercial and residential development for nine months in the Tiber-Hudson watershed amid concerns about the impact of development on the area's waterways after July's deadly flash flood in historic Ellicott City. The Tiber and Hudson streams feed into the Patapsco River.
A zoning change before the Council would allow farmers to use their most valuable natural commodity, the sun, to continue the farming tradition in a changing industry where the traditional farm model is changing throughout the country.
Ball said the school system and the school board provided "a significant amount of documents" following his threat of legal action against the school system last month.
The documents are necessary for the council's auditor to complete a financial audit of the school system at the request of the council following a contentious budget session earlier this year.
Despite the school system's cooperation, Christina Delmont-Small, a candidate running for the school board, said the move, like an insurance policy, was necessary should the council have limited access to information in the future.
"I am sad that we have to keep coming here and testifying for more oversight of our school system," said Woodbine resident and school board candidate Vicky Cutroneo.