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CRISFIELD — A change to the zoning code to allow medium-scale solar energy systems of up to 2 megawatts by special exception in Residential-4 districts was unanimously approved by the City …
CRISFIELD — A change to the zoning code to allow medium-scale solar energy systems of up to 2 megawatts by special exception in Residential-4 districts was unanimously approved by the City Council.
The text amendment clears a major hurdle for ECA Solar which proposes to build a 1.5 MW system on a 24-acre dredge spoil site across from Woodson Elementary School.
The site known as Calvary Estates is owned by Phil Johnson of Cedar Island LLC and is the only R-4 zone in the city limits. Due to the nature of the property, however, and the fact that it is not served by water or sewer, its development as a residential neighborhood of manufactured homes is unlikely and at one time industrial-scale wind turbines were proposed.
City Solicitor Andrew Illuminati said the developer can’t get the site plan approved or a permit to build “without the special exception,” which requires an advertised public hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Once that is in hand, the site plan goes to the planning commission for its review and recommendation, and then to the City Council for final approval. That includes approval of a decommissioning plan.
Mayor Darlene Taylor said the requirements for decommissioning make up much of the text amendment.
Because of a change in state law allowing tax exemptions for solar installations like this the personal property taxes a project would normally pay will be worked out ahead of time as a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) over the life of the system.
Andrew Bunnell, legal counsel for ECA Solar, said like any piece of personal property the solar arrays and brackets will depreciate over time, so the plan is to guarantee to the city a level of revenue based on the 1.5 MW production capacity.
“This is something that is very much in preliminary theoretical stages at this point,” Mr. Bunnell said. “What we’re willing to do is pay the city a tax payment that we negotiate now in 2023 that’s going to be good for the next 25 to 30 years.”
Mr. Bunnell said if there are substantial revisions or additions to the system, then the solar company is required by law to disclose that to the city, “and adjust the PILOT accordingly.”
A discussion about the PILOT “has yet to be had,” Mr. Bunnell said, and was not part of the council’s vote on the zoning amendment.
Councilman Eric Banks said while the solar providers will own the infrastructure “it’s our project” and important that the city have good oversight and a “good agreement to benefit the city moving forward.”
Councilwoman Charlotte Scott, who made the motion to amend the zoning code, said she was concerned that there are a lot of steps involved with this.
“I’d personally like to see people jump through as few hoops as possible,” she said. At $3 to $5 million it’s not necessarily “that big of a project.” Councilwoman LaVerne Johnson agreed.
City Inspector Dean Bozman said there are some time requirements for posting and advertising but he can work with the developer “and expedite it pretty fast” by making recommendations during his review so that what is presented complies with code.
At the Jan. 11 meeting Mr. Banks seconded the motion by Ms. Scott to amend the zoning code with all in favor including Vice President Ivan Lankford voting remotely.
Also attending remotely was Mr. Bunnell, with ECA Solar’s development manager Jack Rowland attending in-person.