Our county budget for 2023 is good, and we were reassured of the Talbot County Planning Commission’s oversight at their meeting Wednesday. Our Talbot County Comprehensive Water and Sewer Plan requires providing our state’s most recent standard of wastewater treatment to new homes in a development, and we’re moving in that direction.
More time was devoted that morning to discussion of Resolution 329. It requires a temporary moratorium on processing applications for large scale solar development; and the next few months will include consideration of setback requirements, reclassification of property and titling issues, reimbursements per acre, and requirements related to escrow, funding and bonds.
We wouldn’t want topsoil removed and sold in this process. That happened in Delaware, essentially eliminating the option of returning to agriculture. Attorney Ryan Showalter provided a helpful summary of bond and escrow issues; and Scott Kane, co-owner of Creative Energies Solar, had submitted a report described by a commissioner as “the best task force report ever.”
Most importantly, everyone seemed focused upon working together for the best outcome for Talbot County, and it was suggested that a mid-June work session would include not only Attorney Showalter and Scott Kane, but public works, solar experts, environmental organizations, Easton Utilities, and representatives of counties with experience in solar.
It was also emphasized that the health and welfare of our citizens and the requirements of our comprehensive plan are priorities, and the need to educate the public as the process proceeds was also recognized.
It’s been a steep learning curve for many of us over the past year, but at this point we might feel confident that our planning commission understands that the county has authority over planning for all development, and these plans must first be approved by the planning commission.
The Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) recently briefed our Talbot County Council on current legislation and advised of assistance available to counties. The Maryland Department of Planning has resources to assist in planning; and, in coordination with MACO, has provided guidelines for managing growth that includes assistance for updating comprehensive plans, planning septic tiers, amending a comprehensive plan, holding public hearings and work sessions for new plans, approving changes to plans in a timely fashion, and planning for change in 10-year increments.
Lakeside has been in the works for decades. In 2009 Talbot County Council President Phil Foster asked the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) why the state had granted Lakeside a construction permit on May 30, 2006, for a sewerage plant to serve over 2,000 homes and scores of commercial units without county approval.The 2003 agreement between the town of Trappe and the developer requires compliance with the town’s comprehensive plan for a development of 2,501 residences.
It was reported that concerns had been expressed to the MDE regarding possible efforts to bypass the county’s approval in 2005. The developer’s attorney suggested that the MDE has ultimate authority, and the developer also had the right to proceed because the county was delinquent in updating its water and sewer plan.
MDE explained that Lakeside’s request was the first separate municipal plan submitted directly to the department, and the department was overwhelmed at that time by a housing boom and hundreds of applications. Questions over the legality and propriety of what happened remain unresolved.
Resolution 281 permitting the project to move forward was adopted by the Talbot County Council on August 11, 2020. A request for the rescission of Resolution 281 was made on May 7, 2021, and a public hearing took place on October 12, 2021.
Provided with additional information and within a relatively short period of time, on November 3, 2021, the planning commission determined that hooking up to 120 homes to an underperforming wastewater treatment plant for an undetermined period of time until a spray irrigation treatment system is completed is inconsistent with our comprehensive plan; and the planning commission’s approval of Resolution 281 was rescinded
The legality and propriety of ongoing construction at Lakeside is therefore being questioned; and on May 27, 2022, county residents joined the Talbot Integrity Project to file a complaint against MDE, an action taken to enforce the Talbot County Planning Commission’s decision to disapprove of Resolution 281 and to revoke or suspend the construction permit allowing sewerage from Lakeside to be directed to the existing Trappe plant.
Attorneys representing the Integrity Project met with MDE in an attempt to rectify Lakeside’s problems without going to court. That opportunity was turned down, but lessons may have been learned already. With a town in trouble, there’s lots of emotion; but with a project of this size, there may be far less opportunity to escape scrutiny.
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.