Should there be a large solar energy farm directly outside Chestertown? That question arose at the Dec. 17 council meeting, as Mayor Chris Cerino brought the council a request by the Kent County Commissioners for a letter of opposition to such an installation on a large tract on Morgnec Road.
Cerino said the proposal, by the Morgnec Road Solar group, was previously submitted about two years ago, at which point the commissioners and the council made their opposition known. At that point, the developer dropped the proposal, but it has now resubmitted it.
The Clark farm, as the tract in question is known, lies in Chestertown’s designated growth area, just outside town limits on the north side of Morgnec Road. It was being considered for annexation about 10 years ago, before a group seeking to develop it as a residential community withdrew their proposal in light of the real estate market collapse that accompanied the Great Recession of 2008. Morgnec Road Solar proposes to build an array on about 255 acres.
The county’s objection to developing the tract as a solar facility is on grounds that the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances have designated other areas as suitable for solar energy. Cerino said that the project is also opposed by the Kent Conservation and Preservation Alliance, a group that came together in response to proposals to put large wind turbines on farmland within the county.
Councilman Marty Stetson said the site “makes no sense.” He said there are plenty of other areas in the county that are suitable, and “the sun shines everywhere.”
Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver asked why that particular site was being promoted, in view of the county’s previous opposition and the dictates of the comprehensive plan. He said he would like time to study the issue, which originally came up before his election to the council.
Cerino said the developer claimed that other areas of the county “aren’t as prime” for solar generation.
Town Manager Bill Ingersoll said the location of an electrical substation “across the street” was probably an important factor. He said the council probably doesn’t need to act at once. “We just need to put our names on the list,” he said.
Councilman David Foster asked if the County Commission, which now has two new members, may have changed its mind since the proposal was first submitted.
“I think they feel the same, but we may want to find out” before action, Ingersoll said. Morgnec Solar is asking the county for a zoning text amendment to allow the project, he said. That would have to be approved by the commissioners.
Cerino said there is a possibility that Morgnec Solar would ask the town to annex the Clark farm, which would “put the ball in our court.” The council deferred action until the new members have had a chance to study the issue.
The developer’s application to the Maryland Public Service C0mmission for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the 45-megawatt facility is available online as an attachment to the Kent County Commissioners Dec. 18 agenda.
In his monthly report, Police Chief Adrian Baker said he has made offers of employment to two candidates, to fill vacancies on the force, but as of the council meeting they had not accepted. He said the candidates would need to pass psychological tests and a polygraph session before qualifying to attend the police academy for six months. Upon graduation, they could be certified and begin work.
Baker also said that a suspect in a series of burglaries, about 40 in all, has waived extradition and is to be brought back to Maryland to face charges. A vehicle stolen by the suspect is also to be returned to the county.
The council unanimously approved a resolution to support a tax credit for Zelda’s, a “speakeasy” bar being built on the second floor of the building of Play It Again Sam’s coffee shop by Jeff Maguire, who owns the building. The building is in the town’s Arts and Entertainment District as well as the county’s Enterprise Zone, making it eligible for 10 years’ of tax credits. Ingersoll said the business will create several new jobs as well as bringing business to town.
Stetson asked if the credits apply to the whole building or just the upstairs. Ingersoll said only the upstairs is eligible.
Tolliver asked if other new businesses in town are eligible for the credit. Ingersoll said they would be if they apply, which he said is “something of a process.” He said that Jamie Williams, the county’s economic development director, and Kay MacIntosh, who holds an equivalent position with the town, are helping promote the benefits for new businesses in the Enterprise Zone, which has some 1,200 acres in the county, mostly in and around Chestertown.
Ingersoll reported that the town’s application for $4.5 million in U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grants was not approved. The town had applied for the grants to repave town streets, many of which are in serious need of the repair. He said that most of the grants available in Maryland had gone to larger projects such as bridges on the western shore. He said it is more difficult for rural areas to get the same benefits as urban areas because of the sparser population. The thanked Dixon Valve and Chesapeake Charities for their help in getting the town’s application in order before the grant deadline.