OAKLAND – Area residents voiced their opinions on Garrett County’s adoption of performance zoning and what many of its supporters hope it will prevent – the development of wind turbines – for more than two hours Tuesday.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Not in my backyard,'” Victor Fickes, who owns a home on Backbone Mountain, said, “but when (a turbine) is practically in my bedroom, it’s time to take action.”
The public hearing was standing room only, with more than 50 people in attendance to discuss the controversial issue of bringing some form of zoning into Garrett County as well as the potential development of wind turbines that several there hope to see regulated.
Fickes said when he first purchased his property to construct his future retirement home, he had no idea there would be wind turbines located adjacent to it.
For many, this possibility and lack of regulation to determine setback or height limitations spawned the original proposal that some form of zoning be put into place.
Performance zoning, according to a letter by William Wantz, a Hagerstown attorney hired by area citizens, would allow the county the possibility to extend the Deep Creek Lake Zoning Ordinance to cover ridge tops throughout the county. His letter added that performance zoning could also be used to regulate or prevent the development of wind turbines on those ridge tops.
However, it was the opinion of county attorney Mike Getty, according to correspondence with the commissioners, that this would not be legal action because the Deep Creek Lake Watershed does not include all of the ridge tops in the county.
Bill Pope of Mountain Lake Park said he felt something needs to be done, calling the county a “tremendously vulnerable area.” He said this is due to the lack of any kind of regulation and the fact that wind companies can now bypass some of the Maryland Public Service Commission processes by building smaller development projects.
Although there is no countywide zoning in Garrett, there are noise and junkyard regulations. A number of people opposed the idea of any form of zoning, afraid that it would encroach on owners’ rights to do what they want with their property.
“We don’t need people to tell us what to do with our property,” Don Riley of Oakland said. “If I want to build something, I will build it. If I want to lease it out to wind power, I’d lease it. I own that property. I pay taxes on it. I don’t want to see zoning on Backbone Mountain.”
Others pointed to Deep Creek Lake as the only zoning location in the county, some saying they feel the zoning has not helped prevent the entire view from the lake from being covered in homes and developments. Some even said they feel it enabled the developments to occur.
Those in favor argued that it was not the zoning that was the problem, but the lack of strict zoning that created some of the issues around the lake.
Keith Cummings of Oakland said he fears what could happen if zoning is brought into Garrett County to regulate wind power.
“In the beginning, it may be very good,” Cummings said, “but if we add amendments, what are we going to have to deal with? I think that as a property owner, I should have some right over what I do with my property. We need to have our freedom. I know with zoning, it takes away a lot of our freedoms. In the long-term basis, is it going to be a good thing for us or are we just looking at the present time?”
Others argued that the rules of Deep Creek Lake should not be applied to the rest of the county because they are part of a different area and a different watershed.
Several who spoke in favor of zoning said they were concerned with what the county might look like in several years’ time if development of wind turbines is allowed and what might happen if the turbines become obsolete or stop running.
Madonna Pool of Oakland said she had lived in several states where she saw the turbines left to “decompose.”
Others mentioned the effect that wind turbines and other forms of development, if left unregulated, might have on the county’s tourism economy.
Thom Kierstead, Swanton, said the idea of extending the Deep Creek Lake Watershed zoning throughout the county would be a mistake.
“It’s probably inevitable that countywide zoning will happen one day,” Kierstead said, “but it will require careful planning.”
Commission Chairman Denny Glotfelty saidthe commissioners would consider the comments that were presented to them at the meeting.
Jim “Smokey” Stanton, Oakland, suggested to extend the comment period to allow for an evening meeting when more residents would be able to attend due to work schedules.
By Sarah Moses
25 June 2008
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