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Zoning differences [Editorial]

Zoning is a funny thing. It’s not laugh out loud comedy, but rather it’s funny as in peculiar.

Two recent cases are but the latest examples of quirkiness sometimes found in Harford County zoning matters.

The Harford County Council voted unanimously last week to uphold a zoning hearing examiner’s decision to deny permission for a proposed tire pyrolysis plant in Joppa.

Pyrolysis is a fancy word for using heat to separate things, in this case discarded tires, into their basic elements. With tires, they’re shredded and then high heat would be turned on them to transform the shredded pieces into new byproducts such as crude oil and steel.

While the location of the proposed operation on Pauls Lane in Joppa doesn’t have much residential development in its immediate vicinity, there are plenty of houses, as the crow flies, in proximity to the site. Robert Kahoe, the zoning hearing examiner, ruled that such an operation wasn’t allowed anywhere in Harford County under existing law.

There’s another proposal, this one for a solar panel farm in Creswell, that’s also run afoul of the zoning code. A 254-acre farm off of Route 136 at its Shucks Road intersection in Creswell, a community in the Bel Air 21015 ZIP code.

Fairview Farms LLC, which consists of members of the James Fielder family, including James D. Fielder Jr., the Maryland commissioner for higher education, his older brother, G. Edward Fielder, a former Harford County Councilman, and their sister Grace Fielder, wants to put 100,000 solar panels on the parcel.

Bradley Killian, the county’s planning director, said such an operation would be classified a “power and regeneration station” under the zoning code, which is not a permitted use on agriculturally zoned properties.

Kahoe, the zoning hearing examiner, upheld Killian’s opinion that the solar panel farm was not a permitted use on the Fielder farm. Kahoe said, however, while he upheld the opinion vetoing the request, the county’s zoning code isn’t clear on the matter.

“It is striking that the Harford County Development Regulations have no definition of solar, solar power, solar field, solar array, etc.” Kahoe, the zoning hearing examiner, wrote in a footnote in his opinion on the matter. “As testimony in this case showed, solar panels are allowed by the Director as accessory uses in most districts, with, it seems, little or no regulation. If the Department of Planning and Zoning has applicable standards, they were not disclosed at the hearing of this case.”

And, thus, another zoning case appears headed to the Harford County Council for its verdict.

From a common sense point of view, it would seem a never-ending field of passive solar panels would be far less onerous than a tire pyrolysis plant. Neither one, however, is close to coming to fruition despite somewhat opposite views of each proffered by the county’s head planning and zoning guy and the zoning hearing examiner.

Funny how zoning cases can be seen so differently by intelligent, reasonable and well-educated people applying the same law.

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