Good news: After 5 work sessions, research, and hearing the concerns of the solar in AR supporters, the Agricultural Reserve Stakeholders have crafted recommendations for moving forward.
This issue now enters a new phase. Three reports have been written by the members of the Work Group.
1. The Joint Report addressing the areas where work group members found common ground. (Note: Reserve stakeholders agreed to these items under the precondition that solar will be a conditional use (and not limited use as the ZTA currently states) as the master plan requires) Conditional v Limited Use briefly explained.
2. The Ag Reserve Stakeholders Report
3. The Pro-ZTA report
MCA and our partners will be meeting with councilmembers in the coming days and weeks as the ZTA goes back to committee and on to the Council for a vote.
The stakeholder recommendations need your support at the Council. Please take two minutes to write in today and share our alert with your networks- and thanks!
After speeding through the committee process during the pandemic when concerned citizens were less able to weigh in, (particularly Ag Reserve residents, many of whom have broadband challenges) in November the Council sent the proposal to an 8 member working group made up of farmers, civic organizations (including MCA), local solar proponents and two non-resident solar industry representatives.
The group was tasked with finding common ground on amendments to the ZTA that would better balance the concerns of farmers (who are unanimously against this provision) and ambitious (and necessary) carbon cutting goals. Last night, 12/29 was the 5th and last meeting. A huge THANK YOU to our partners on the work group and to all our supporters that joined us in the chat to make the case for balancing solar with agriculture, forests and water quality.
The full video of the over 2 hour meeting is here.
The very robust chat transcript is here.
For a deep dive, the entire google drive the work group was working with is here.
Synopsis: there was disagreement regarding the legal path to deploy commercial solar in the Agricultural Reserve. MCA and our Reserve colleagues are firm that the industrial use of solar arrays requires a conditional use designation- just as do other similar utility uses (radio, phone, utility towers, pipelines) in the Reserve. The Conditional Use designation properly regards this non-farming use as other requiring that the MC Board of Appeals take on the review/approval with public participation. And, in fact, it is how neighboring MC counties (that have no Ag Reserve) manage review/approval of commercial solar.
Stray Chat Follow Ups:
The Poolesville Array: 3+ acres of trees cleared to make a 6 acre array
New Farmers Can't Compete With Non-Ag Uses
How We Grow New Farms: Land Link Montgomery
What's Next: Each "side" of the work group - pro and con - will write up their report and send it to the Council. The Transportation and Environment Committee and PHED committee are scheduled to meet on this ZTA on January 14th and the full council will meet later in January. We will continue to make the case that conditional use is the way to get solar done legally under the master plan. Please stay tuned for opportunities to contact the Council as we work to get this right.
MCA has been the organization on the front lines trying to get solar sited responsibly in Montgomery County, even stepping up to host this last work group meeting when the County would not. It is the support of local folks that lets us continue to do this work. Our lean, tenacious organization has once again been called "one of the best" in the DC region by Catalogue for Philanthropy. We would be honored by your end-of-year support.