Anyone following county government these past few months couldn’t be blamed for harboring the thought that our Talbot County Council may deserve a raise. Compensation is relatively low here compared to other counties, and development issues dominate meetings now that might wear down the best public official.
Talbot County is currently in the process of updating its Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan, and Rauch, Inc. has been contracted to assist in this mission. Meetings with towns were requested, and following county planning meetings on August 30 and last Wednesday, the first town meeting was held in Trappe on Monday.
The town hall meeting room was filled. Bill Boicourt and Lisa Ghezzi of the county planning commission and Bill Anderson of the county public works advisory board were in attendance. County engineer Ray Clarke, noting the plan’s structure will remain similar to the existing plan with the exception of changes to COMAR, welcomed everyone to this joint effort to update the Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan.
Bob Rauch emphasized that the county will be working with the town. The county will also be preparing most maps, but the town will need to provide guidance on mapping matters including population predictions. The town’s plan will be incorporated into the county plan, and the biggest change in this process is moving from a 3-level to a 6-level COMAR classification process.
We were also reminded that the documents provided are “discussion tools” and that COMAR offers the ultimate guidance. This data collecting stage may take a few months; but once a plan is completed, it will be updated every 3 years.
Bill Boicourt noted that working together is a good idea, as the county planning commission must certify this plan; and Scott Kane, candidate for Talbot County Council, lauded the opportunity of a digital format. This is a very detailed process, and Lisa Ghezzi appreciated clarification of the county’s role. Bill Anderson inquired about possible financial assistance for these tasks, and Bob Rauch suggested that assistance could be available. That news was welcomed, and county council candidate David Montgomery seemed pleased with this effort. This was a relatively brief meeting, but the public interest displayed made a difference.
Our Talbot County Council met Tuesday evening at 6pm. Council member Frank Divilio’s tribute to 9/11 victims and heroes was followed by recognition of an especially creative Frederick Douglass project executed by an Easton high school student, recognition of September as Senior Center Month, and a health care report for Talbot County. The introduction of resolutions for the reclassification of property and water system improvements in Oxford and the sale of bonds to finance the construction of a public safety center and health department building were then approved unanimously.
For more detail, meeting videos are available at talbotcountymd.gov. The following is a hopefully accurate summary of frequently complicated development issues:
Concerning Resolution 334 to connect sewer service for a government facility to Royal Oak pump station, Tom Hughes, chair of the planning commission when Resolution 175 was drafted, offered his opinion that Resolution 334 is not consistent with our current water and sewer plan.
Alan Girard of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation agreed that this should remain “a dedicated line,” and suggested that “composting toilets could be a solution at the repurposing center.” Soil testing in that case could take 24 months, according to Ray Clarke; and there are concerns for high groundwater levels.
Attorney Tom Allspach of Talbot Preservation Alliance suggested Resolution 334, as currently written, “eliminates some connection requirements.” He also recommended deferring passage of this resolution until a project merits its consideration. Resolution 334 remains open.
Resolution 1523 would allow nonconforming use of an already nonconforming historic country club structure in order to add amenities. Similarly grandfathered projects were cited, but as this was not in compliance with our comprehensive plan, Resolution 1523 was put on hold.
Resolution 1524 provides funding to protect and restore property utilized for solar energy systems that includes ranking properties for soil quality and topsoil management. SolHarvest Energy suggested that this is “pulling the rug out from under” a currently approved plan.
Alan Girard then presented a soil ranking map suggesting that more than one half of agricultural land would remain available for solar installations under this method. It was then suggested that much of this land could be identified as critical area.
Resident Scott Williams supports Resolution 1524, but not the amendment that punishes his grandfather for taking care of his land. Attorney Ryan Showalter also questioned this ranking method and suggested reconsidering formulas for acreage. Proximity to critical area and transmission lines are also considerations.
Laura Price suggested replacing this amendment with one that allows 10 acres of solar for every 100 acres of land and requested that county attorney Patrick Thomas provide text.
Resolution 1525, a bill to amend Chapter 190 of Talbot County Zoning Code for land development regarding the expansion of a structure for nonconforming use, subject to certain conditions, prompted a gentleman to approach the bench. Council president Callahan said, “We’re off,” and the video was indeed off for a few moments.
Discussion of a possible addition to an existing nonconforming storage facility followed, but may require further consideration. Easements for agricultural land preservation, a community resilience plan, and a resolution to take over the Wye Mills property association agreement were all passed unanimously.
Our county attorney then presented Amendment 2 to Resolution 1524. It suggests that solar installations on 100 acres shall not occupy more than 10 percent of this acreage, and this amendment will be passed on to the planning commission for consideration.
So how about that raise? It was a busy night, and these issues are complicated. County council candidate Dave Stepp waited hours to deliver a final public comment. The council could address his concerns at a future meeting. This meeting adjourned at 10pm.
Carol Voyles is a graphic designer/illustrator who retired to the Eastern Shore and became interested in politics. She serves as communications chair for the Talbot County Democratic Forum and lives in Easton.