Minutes from Sparks Glencoe Community Planning Council Meeting 20 Nov. 2019
Lynne Jones, the President of Sparks Glencoe Community Planning Council (SGCPC), called the meeting on 20 November 2019 to order at 6:40pm. The meeting was held at the Hereford Branch of the Baltimore County Library.
Lynne had several items to report.
- The Inverness Brewery on Markoe Road in Monkton faces possible continued litigation. Initially, an Administrative Law Judge for Baltimore County set limits on the number of events the brewery could host each year. The brewery has greatly exceeded that limit.
- SGCPC submitted a letter opposing a request by the owners of the property at 14721 Manor Road to establish a prior nonconforming use to change the zoning of this property from a one-family dwelling to a three-family dwelling. Although this property falls outside the boundaries of SGCPC’s jurisdiction, our organization sent a letter to Judge Lawrence Stahl stating our opposition because changing the density of this RC5- zoned property would set a bad precedent for increasing residential density throughout the rural area in Baltimore County.
- After two years of opposition, the community action groups in York County, PA, and Harford County, MD, scored a long-sought victory against a multi-million dollar project proposed by Transource Maryland to construct 45 miles of new power lines through these counties. The proposal would have allowed Transource to seize large tracts of private rural property through eminent domain, including that of popular Shaw Orchards Farm Market on the Maryland-Pennsylvania line. The settlement requires Transource to use existing power lines and transmission line corridors operated by BGE rather them building new lines in these counties.
- The Comprehensive Zoning Map Process (CZMP) has begun for 2020. Every four years, Baltimore County permits residents and organizations to petition the County Council to upzone or downzone any property within the county. The deadline for filing CZMP zoning petitions has passed. Of the 35 issues submitted above the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) for District 3, there are only 5-6 issues that pertain to our area, none of which SGCPC will oppose at this time.
Also attending the meeting was Wade Kach, our Councilman for District 3. His report follows:
- Wade and his staff and Kathy Pieper Geppi, President of the North County Community Group, met with Comcast personnel to discuss the company’s contract that provides Internet services to Baltimore County residents. Baltimore County needs to negotiate a new contract with Comcast since the current contract, although still in effect, has expired. There is also a need to expand the number of residents would are covered in the northern part of the county by broadband Internet. The state of Maryland has money set aside to help counties expand Internet service to residents such as ours in North County where Internet services are very poor. Delegate Michele Guyton, State Senator Chris West, Wade, and Kathie are all working toward that end. (Kathie’s later presentation discusses this in detail.)
- Wade mentioned that the 2020 CZMP issues will be decided by August 2020. He has 35 issues above the URDL that he will be addressing in the CZMP. This number is way down from those submitted in the past, probably because his constituents know that he is strong proponent of protecting the unique environmental and water resources in North County against overdevelopment. Nevertheless, he has had developers approach him for approval to build over 4,000 apartments south of the URDL. He has convened a committee to study the proposals to determine the impact. While this growth would take some of the pressure off North Baltimore County, it may outstrip the ability of infrastructure (schools, water/sewer and roads) below the URDL to provide necessary services. Wade has already approved the construction of 400 apartments in Hunt Valley to relieve some of the housing pressure there. He is encouraging all interested parties in CZMP disputes to meet and work out compromise solutions that the County Council can consider next year.
- Wade is re-visiting the solar farm proposals for District 3 in light of the on-going CZMP. He has learned that many of the solar farm projects have inadequate storm water management provisions. Some of these proposed solar farms could damage the water drainage areas of the Pretty Boy reservoir and threaten the water supply for Baltimore. If he determines that any of these proposed sites threaten our reservoirs, he will submit CZMP zoning change requests to prevent companies from putting solar farms on that land.
- Councilmembers Kach, Marks, and Jones introduced Bill 57-19 related to building codes for Baltimore County to the County Council on 4 November for consideration at its Working Session on 26 November. The bill would repeal some of the provisions of the existing building code and permit historical agricultural structures, such as the Boordy Vineyard barn in District 3, to undergo necessary repairs to its roof without changing the unique character of the building.
Delegate Michele Guyton briefed the audience on her recent activities on behalf of North County.
- Michele participated in meetings regarding the siting of solar farms in North County and their impact on storm water management. Like Wade, Michele is very concerned with the potential damage from these solar farms on the vulnerable watershed in our district that supplies the water for Baltimore County. She was able to relate some good news about the installation of solar panels in our area. Several arrays have been installed near Park and Ride Facilities and at the Maryland State Fair Grounds in Timonium. All of these facilities are consistent with prudent solar panel siting, since they are proximate to existing infrastructure for the power grid and don’t threaten prime and productive farmland in North County.
- Michele has been very active in efforts to bring additional Internet service to North County and improve the quality of existing service. She distributed an issue paper summarizing the report from the Task Force on Rural Internet, Broadband, Wireless, and Cellular Service. The report states that, using the Federal Communications Commission standard of 25mbs, only 63% of Maryland residents have access to high speed internet. While 97% of Maryland is covered by some sort of basic access to the Internet, most of these connections are at lower speeds or face issues with the quality of Internet delivery. Of the 3% of residents who don’t have any access to the Internet, 20% live in rural areas such as ours. During her investigations, Michele learned that the Maryland Department of Transportation maintains cable infrastructure in some of the underserved areas of the county and this resource may contribute toward efforts to remedy the Internet problem. Michele urged the audience at the SGCPC meeting to attend the Town Hall on 21 November at the Maryland State Fairground, Horse Auction Building, where the Internet issue will be among topics discussed with Baltimore County and elected officials.
- Last on her list of issues, Michele reported that she is working with other concerned parties to get money for a new Hereford barn.
Kathie Pieper Geppi, the President of the North County Community Group gave the keynote presentation on Broadband Internet Access in North Baltimore County.
- Kathie began by reminding the audience of the impact of poor Internet service or lack of Internet service can have on the lives of North County residents, including school children and telecommuters.
- Comcast is currently the only Internet Service Provider with a contract with Baltimore County. Although this contract has technically expired, Comcast is still performing in a “renewal status” and service has not been dropped.
- Kathie related several stories of North County residents who have tried unsuccessfully to bring Comcast Internet service to their homes in rural areas. Installation estimates have varied widely and been excessive, many ranging from several hundred thousand dollars to half a million dollars.
- Baltimore County’s renewed commitment to improving Internet service in North County is being directed by John Davis, the new Cable Administrator for the Baltimore County Office of Information Technology. John has two focus areas for this goal.
- Franchise Agreements. Baltimore County has contracts with two Internet Service Providers – Comcast and Verizon. The Comcast contract is in renewal status and John is engaged in negotiations to conclude a new contract. However, this new contract renews existing services only. It will have no requirement to expand existing services. To expand coverage, John is working with officials at the state level to acquire some newly-available funding. The Verizon contract with Baltimore County does not expire until 2022. To date, Verizon has not approached the county about providing expanded Internet services and the company is not engaged in these negotiations.
- Governor’s Office for Rural Broadband. Governor Hogan recently announced a new initiative that funds $100M over a five-year period to provide Marylanders in rural communities with reliable, affordable Internet access. Of these funds, $10M will be available in 2020. John is working with Comcast on projects that would qualify for some of the 2020 funding.
- Kathie strongly encouraged the SGCPC audience to get involved in this Broadband Internet project. She is collecting and submitting names and addresses of North County residents who are interested in expanding and improving Internet service in our rural area.
- Timing is critical. The deadline for Baltimore County to submit candidate projects to the Governor’s Office is the end of November (26 November with the upcoming holiday). Kathie is reaching out through e-mails, mailings, flyers and posted announcements to residents of North County, especially those without Internet service, to sign up as many people as possible to support a project here. These lists will matter because the Governor’s decisions will likely be influenced by the number of residents responding with coherent and documented projects such as those Baltimore County plans to submit. Decisions on which projects are selected will be made by April 2020. The projects under consideration must be completed by 31 December 2021.
- Who to contact. Kathie is urging residents to contact her via e-mail and she will compile the names and addresses and pass those on to John Davis at the Baltimore County Office of Information Technology.
- Also see the North County Community Group Facebook page for more details on the Internet issue.