Rezoning request for solar proposal hits delay as landowners learn of plans

Part of a site plan for a 10-acre Solar Energy Generating System along Woodmont Road, west of Hancock.

by Kate Shunney

Property owners near the site of a proposed solar energy array west of Hancock successfully postponed a rezoning hearing on the project, pushing a county decision into next week and prompting more attention to the project and its public hearing.

The Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals was supposed to hear the details of a Solar Energy Generating System being planned for a property along Old Route 40 and Woodmont Road last week, but residents asked the county to set a new date, citing a lack of notice about the project.

The board will now hold a public hearing on the rezoning request from Hancock MD #1 Solar LLC next Wednesday, November 16 at 6 p.m. at the County Commissioners Building in Hagerstown, in Public Meeting Room 2000.

The application for rezoning was entered by representatives of the property owner, listed as Westernport Properties, LLC of Reno, Nevada, and developer, listed as Hancock MD #1 Solar LLC of Framingham, Mass. The company applied for a Special Exception Site

Plan with the Washington County Division of Planning & Zoning on October 3.

In the application, the owners asked the company to grant an exemption for their 21.46-acre property, located at the intersection of Route 144 and Woodmont Road. The land currently has an “Environmental Conservation” designation. The county must grant an exception to that designation in order to allow the solar array to be constructed and operate there.

Neighboring property owners have said they only learned of the proposed solar field and energy system via a small sign posted on the property on Woodmont Road. Notice of the October 23 hearing, which was later rescheduled, was advertised in the Herald-Mail newspaper.

The developer told county officials in their application that the proposed solar energy generating system has an expected lifespan of 30-40 years, and there in a provision in their contract with the landowner to decommission the system at the end of their lease term. Their application asserts that solar panels will be nine feet tall and “will not be visible from any residential property or from any public byway.”

Neighbors say thats not possible, given the lay of the land. Rick Wills said the solar field would impact the view not just of those living in the area, but travelers on Old Route 40, which is a historic byway.

Hancock town officials confirmed on Monday that the company responsible for the solar proposal have rented the meeting room at Hancock Town Hall today, Wednesday, November 9 at 6 p.m. for a meeting about the project. They didn’ t know if the meeting is open to the public or if only affected property owners are invited to the meeting.

The November 16 meeting of the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals is open to the public. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

More information about the rezoning request is available from Katie Rathvon, Zoning Coordinator, Division of Planning & Zoning. She can be reached by email at [email protected].