Solar Panels hot topic at East New Market meeting

EAST NEW MARKET — The issue of solar panels and what town ordinances should govern their installation in East New Market took another step toward resolution at the Aug. 12 commission meeting. Keith Lackie, regional planner for the Maryland Planning Department who participated in updating the town’s planning and zoning regulations, presented information about solar panels at the recent meeting.
He noted that on residential structures outside the historic district solar panels are considered part of the infrastructure like shingles would be. The zoning ordinances need no change but a text amendment could specifically address the issue. Even an array off of the home, considered an “accessory structure,” is covered because they are limited to back yards. Like a shed, it must be in the rear yard, and not obstruct emergency personnel. A longstanding “tenet of the planning profession,” said Mr. Lackie, is that structures cannot impact the “general health, safety, and welfare of a community.”
However, he said, “Historic districts are another matter.” The aesthetics must also be considered and the “issues of renewable energy have caused some angst. There’s a dichotomy in trying to preserve an historic structure but also creating renewable energy.”
He emphasized that whatever the commission decides to do the overriding policy must be established through Historic District Commission (HDC) guidelines and applied uniformly. “I talked about this with the deputy director of the Maryland Historic Trust and she indicated there is a wide range of possibilities. It is up to the local historic district. On one side of the argument if the panels are installed in a way that doesn’t detract from an historic property or a feature of the structure, no harm, no foul —  because it’s considered a reversible alteration.” On the stricter side, it would not be inappropriate to deny solar panels since historic district commissions would be within their rights. He added, “The middle ground is if a proposal would have an array placed on an historic structure and would not be within public view is there really any harm being done?”
“The bottom line is that as long as you establish a clear policy and apply it uniformly you’re not going to run afoul of either the Department of Interior guidelines at the federal level or Maryland Historic Trust guidelines.”
“There might be some deviation of that. If an historic building has a non-historic addition and the solar panels are proposed for that addition I don’t think that is something the HDC would balk at. But looking at the historic structure is it within the public view?”
“It sounds like I’m waffling on this.” However, he said that outside the historic district things are clearly regulated. Inside the district there is more room for “gray” areas until a clear policy or path is agreed to. “Once you decide on how to go, there is not more ambiguity.”
Commissioner Marva Sampson expressed concerns that solar panels might lead to depreciation of property values. Mr. Lackie felt that such energy conservation projects are viewed positively and he will check with the regional assessment office. Resident Chuck Hurley noted that in his research for historical commissions he found that the use of solar energy is adding value to homes.
Mr. Lackie offered his help if the commission decides to formalize a process and act as liaison with the Historic Trust staff.
Commissioner Mary Turner-Dennard said that speeding and motorcycles “popping wheelies” continue to plague the Richardson Road area. Both County Councilman Rick Price and East New Market Commissioner David Tolley spoke with Sheriff James Phillips regarding the traffic concerns expressed at the last meeting. With no video or cameras to take pictures of offenders it is difficult to catch violators. The sheriff asked that Ms. Dennard call him directly when problems arise and he would send an officer as quickly as possible.

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Mayor Cline noted how “very much the children and their caretakers have enjoyed the park (Friendship Park playground) in the 10 days or so it’s been available.” She was “amazed” to see the number of families using the park. The official ribbon cutting for the public is slated for Sept. 13, 11 a.m.

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Commissioner Sampson announced that Oct. 4 at 11 a.m., is the 12th annual Heritage Day and will feature music, dancing, and culinary specialties. Faith Community United Methodist Church, near the intersection of Routes 14 and 392 is an historical site along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Driving tour. The installation of a new historical marker celebrating the church’s connection to the Underground Railroad will be commemorated with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. She invited the public to attend.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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