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Property owners voice concerns during zoning proposal hearing  

About 75 local property owners attended a public hearing Tuesday morning at the Garrett County commissioners’ meeting room on a proposed Deep Creek Watershed Zoning Ordinance amendment. Thirty people spoke during the tense 2½ hour event, which, at times, was punctuated with shouts and a few tears.

Submitted by Nancy-Elizabeth Nimmich, Pleasant Valley, and Barbara Boone, Oakland, the proposal would establish “performance zoning” countywide.

Under the amendment, a new Article 12 would be added to the watershed ordinance that would define and prohibit commercial wind turbine structures. It would also define the territorial jurisdiction of the new article to include all lands in Garrett County except incorporated municipalities, explained John Nelson, director of the Garrett County Department of Planning and Land Development.

Nelson noted that he had received five e-mails/letters prior to the hearing from residents stating their views on the proposal. Boone also submitted a petition bearing the signatures of 271 residents who favor the amendment.

County attorney Mike Getty did not attend the hearing. But in a letter to the commissioners dated March 12, Getty stated, “There is nothing in the provisions of Article 66B, however, that suggests that you can use the provisions of § 10.01 ‘outside’ the zone where the local jurisdiction has actually chosen to exercise its authority.

“To be clear, performance zoning is something that I believe you could adopt in the zoning district that you created: the Deep Creek Watershed Zoning District,” Getty continued. “There is no apparent suggestion, however, that the legislature intended performance zoning to be a tool in any context other than where local jurisdiction has exercised the authority granted by the article.”

Article 66B delegates basic planning and land use regulatory powers to the state’s towns and non-charter counties, including Garrett.

Commission board chairman Denny Glotfelty asked those who wished to speak at the hearing to try to keep their comments brief and to stick to the specific topic: performance zoning.

“It’s not about property rights; it’s not about windmills,” he said. But many residents still addressed the pros and cons of both issues.

Several speakers said zoning would take away their basic rights and freedoms.

“I believe this is about power – power over private property owners,” said Deer Park resident Jerry Plauger about the proposal.

He said he admired the amendment supporters for standing up for what they believe in.

“But so I’m I,” Plauger said. “I’ve always said, ‘We’ve got one thing to protect in Garrett County and that’s freedom. Once you trade it off to the government, things change.”

“I think we ought to have some rights with what we do with our property,” said Keith Cummings of the Underwood area.

Zoning may be good in the beginning, he said, but as time goes by, many freedoms end up being taken away. Cummings said residents need to ask themselves if zoning is what they want, and is it going to be good for them in the long term?

“We don’t need people to tell us what to do with our property,” said Don Riley, Pleasant Valley. “If I want to build something. I will build it. If I want to lease it out to wind power, I’ll lease it. I own that property. I pay taxes on it. I don’t want to see zoning on Backbone Mountain.”

Others asked where one property owner’s rights ended and another’s began.

“I think sometimes your freedom as a property owner is going to infringe on my freedom as a property owner,” said New Germany area resident Kathy Tunney.

She said she and others ought to have the right to weigh in on the issue of wind turbines being built near their properties.

“We want the right to say something about what our freedoms and rights are,” Tunney said.

Liz McDowell, who lives near Tunney, said wind turbines were just one example of what could happen on one person’s property that could impact a neighbor’s lifestyle. She said such questions as how close is too close to my boundary line?, and how tall is too tall?, therefore, needed to be addressed.

“You have to step in, whatever it is, whether it’s a turbine or something else, when it impacts the quality of life, impacts the health of livestock, or whatever,” Mc-Dowell told the commissioners.

She asked them to please do something about the issue, whether through zoning or by some other means.

President Scott Johnson, Deep Creek Lake Property Owners’ Association, said there is a critical need for some form of zoning throughout Garrett County, especially given the present debate over wind turbines.

Because the state recently abandoned “effective regulation” of the siting of wind turbines, the only way to regulate the devices is through local land-use regulations, Johnson said. As a result, Garrett County is currently powerless to impose any “meaningful” controls over turbines because it has no countywide land-use regulations.

“A total prohibition of wind turbines certainly does not seem to be warranted, especially in light of the legitimate needs for additional sources of generation of electricity,” Johnson said. “On the other hand, however, total abandonment of any regulation of the siting of turbines is equally, if not more, inappropriate.”

The POA, therefore, he said, believes that the commissioners “should move with dispatch” to extend zoning throughout the county.

Johnson added that zoning was needed for many reasons, not just turbines.

“The county is losing vital control over the direction of its growth; cries are being heard frequently about the disappearance of affordable farm land, and anomalies are occurring on a regular basis, such as the construction of a bar in proximity to a church,” Johnson said.

At the conclusion of the hearing Boone said, “To clarify, performance zoning is not illegal. It is legal in the state of Maryland. Whether the county chooses to use it is another question.”

She noted that the county also has other documents that it uses at its own discretion: the comprehensive plan and the heritage plan.

“When it suits your purposes, you quote it; when it doesn’t, you ignore it, say that it’s not enforceable,” Boone told the commissioners. “But the language that is in both of those plans is absolutely contrary to industrial wind turbine development.”

According to William C. Wantz, a Hagerstown attorney hired by Boone and several other local residents, “Performance zoning, as a land use technique expressly authorized in §10.01, may be exercised in Garrett County, in or outside the Deep Creek watershed, whether or not in combination or concert with Title 4 zoning [of Article 66B].”

Wantz did not attend the public hearing.

“What are you going to do to protect our health, our safety, while we are enjoying our property and our natural resources?” Boone asked the commissioners.

“We’ll consider your comments we heard here today,” Glotfelty to the speakers at the end of the hearing.

The commissioners have not scheduled another public hearing on the proposed zoning amendment, as several residents requested at Tuesday’s hearing.

County administrator Monty Pagenhardt said no official action is required by the commissioners regarding the comments at the hearing or the petition.

“They will stand behind the opinion of the county attorney,” Pagenhardt said Wednesday about the county commissioners.

The Republican

26 June 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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