August 2011: Still nothing scheduled before the FC Planning Board. Yet, we understand that the applicant has met, behind closed doors, with the FC Health Department staff. Apparently, GMC is working to back into the restriction of 4999 gpd discharge for their septic system. So, they go in and indicate that they will have less seats in the dining hall and less seats in the worship hall and several less classrooms. Now, will that work? Question has been raised as to whether the amount of alteration to the site plan then becomes a new application thus requiring public process/hearing. And how does this downsizing on paper jive with the stated (in writing and testimony) desire to have a really big church for a really big congregation? Remember, GMC went to court to battle for a septic system much larger that the 4999 gpd. They lost. Will keep you posted.
June Update: Nothing yet scheduled before the Planning Board in Frederick. MCA has made inquiry with MC Planning Commission regarding permits on the MC side and whether they are current and/or in conflict with standing master plans. Moreover, we have contacted the FC Health Department and expressed concern that the applicant may try to use “meeting” with health department staff to push through modified versions of their plan amounting to new application review without public process. The applicants history is a checkered one…with small proposals growing…mega. Donations to the legal fund are welcome as we will likely have to mount a legal case based on zoning, local, state and federal statutes. Make sure you note that your donations is for the Mega Church Legal Fund.
Just in: Decision upholds the Board of Appeals reversal of the denial of the Global Mission Church’s site plan! Read the full court decision here. The Frederick County Attorney’s office will seek guidance from the FC Board of County Commissioners as to whether to pursue further appeal. Allowing this decision to stand would jeopardize the Planning Board’s authority in land use decisions. The FC Health Department’s denial of the septic system for this facility was based on fact: current and projected numbers of congregants and building capacity far exceed the septic carrying capacity at this site! In addition to holding Frederick Planners and Health Department officials to there obligations to ensuring compatibility of land uses to zoning and septic limitations, MCA is evaluating challenges on the Montgomery County side with regard to the road and bridge crossing over fragile Little Bennett. Opportunities for challenge under both State and Federal statutes exist and will be vigorously pursued by groups and community members if necessary.
MCA attended a hearing (Jan. 19, 2011) in Frederick Circuit Court to address the FC Attorney’s appeal of the FC Board of Appeal’s reversal of the Planning Board’s denial of Global Mission’s site plan application. Wow…that sounds complicated. Basically, the Frederick County Attorney filed an appeal of the decision to overturn the Planning Board’s decision. This was the hearing of that appeal.
The short report is that no action was taken by the Judge; we expect a decision on the proceedings in the next 30 days. We will, as always, be providing updates on the process as they become available.
The Hearing began with FC Attorney Wendy Kearney laying out the months and years of proceedings in this case, emphasizing at each turn that GMC was not willing to downsize their project to bring it into compliance with the 5,000 gallon/day wastewater discharge limit, to this day the proposed building remains “a 10 pound building on 5 pound septic system”. She noted that the real crux of the argument is that until the building can be properly scaled to be within the 5,000 gpd cap, the health department can’t approve it, and as a result under state law the Planning Commission can’t approve the site plan.
To head off the violation of due process claims from GMC, Ms. Kearney noted that the BOA hearing (many MCA members will remember this 11 hour hearing) did not focus on the record but was instead a de novo (do-over, all new) hearing that would fix any slights GMC thought they got at the hands of the Planning Commission. Those who were there will remember the hours of cross examination, even cross examination of members of the public. The decision in that hearing came a few weeks after that marathon session, the record had been closed but one BOA member brought new EPA documents he found in an internet search into the decision making process. Despite the BOA Attorney’s cautionary advice, mention of these documents appeared in the final decision. This is not only sloppy practices, it is grounds for reversal- which is why when a motion to reconsider (and either add those docs to the record to disregard them) was denied by the BOA, the FC Attorneys had to take the matter to Circuit Court.
Ms. Kearney having caught the judge up on the back story, GMC’s counsel Danny O’Connor spoke on the County’s attempts to, “play gotcha with my client, put them in a catch 22.” Mr. O’Connor made a number of statements that misrepresented prior hearings, the main theme of his argument being that the Health Department changed the formula by which gallons/day were calculated, and did so days before a Planning Commission hearing. In her rebuttal to Mr. O’Connor’s comments, Ms. Kearney explained what anyone following this case knows to be true; that the Health Department was working with a reported number of sanctuary seats, assuming one or two services per Sunday. When they made the first calculations they did not know about a.) the 6 services planned each Sunday b.) the extra three story building holding 67 classrooms. Once FC Health Department Staff learned the true scope of the project, they revised their calculations up to reflect the increased use the building would get (6 gallons per day per sanctuary seat instead of 3 gpd). Obviously, the increased use meant increased wastewater discharge, taking the building far above the allowable 5,000 gallons/day. Again, “a 10 pound building on a 5 pound tank,” as Ms. Kearney said.
After each side laid out their arguments, the Judge asked about the implications of upholding (allowing the, in our eyes faulty, BOA decision to stand) or denying this case (letting the Planning Commission’s denial stand, our preferred option). The Judge was surprised to learn that GMC could have started over with a new site plan at any time. GMC’s lawyers explained that there were a number of new site development regulations in effect that the plan would be held to if they re-started the process, not to mention the cost of re-doing the plans. FC Attorney Kathy Mitchell clarified that GMC would be subject to new waste water rules even if they stuck with their current plan. In favor of denial, Ms. Kearney pointed out that the voluminous record in the case (which took three Courthouse staffers to move), would only grow larger with more hearings as the result of upholding the BOA.Additionally, both the BOA and Planning Commission each have two new members that would have to either re-hear the case or spend many, many hours reviewing the record.
Ms. Kearney made the most compelling argument of all based on what she identified as the most important fact in this case; unless GMC is willing to drastically downsize the size of their buildings, hearings could continue to drag on with no approval of their site plan.
Read on for more info and a link to the archives…
The saga continues as Global Mission Church (GMC) attempts to build a 135,000 sq ft mega church off rt 109 in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain with little regard for the rural community and its natural and historic resources. Take note: GMC is ultimately seeking a facility in excess of 200,000 sq. ft.!
On March 25th, the Frederick County Board of Appeals (BOA) voted 4-1 to send the decision on the GMC site plan back to the Planning Commission for further proceedings. Despite excellent testimony from residents and FC staff, and supported by a record demonstrating that GMC had ample opportunity to present and discuss their plan, the BOA wanted to give the church more time to meet with county staff to discuss the site plan.
MCA disagrees with the BOA’s decision because:
»The Church had already been granted customary and reasonable staff consultation time.
» Despite being told that the plan would exceed the septic capacity of 4,999 gallon per day, the church has failed to significantly change their plan in any way that would bring it into compliance.
»The Planning Commission voted to deny the GMC site plan because they were bound by law to do so. If the Health Department does not approve a septic system to be associated with a project, the Planning Commission is required to deny the site plan application.
The Frederick County Attorney’s office agrees with us on these points and is seeking to appeal the BOA decision in the Frederick Co. Circuit Court. In the BOA proceedings, County Attorney Wendy Kearney said that this was the most clear cut case for denial of an appeal that she has ever seen. And still, the BOA found in favor of the Church.
The FC Attorney’s office Petition for Reconsideration is wending it’s way through the process, including a 30 day window for those who may file in opposition. We are monitoring the process closely and will update you when the court decides whether to take the appeal. We understand that parties may file friend of court statements, at appropriate time, in support of the County Attorney’s office. Please update us on any news you may have, including any activity at the proposed building site.
To read previous posts on GMC, click here and scroll down.
Pete Menke, longtime Mayor of Barnesville recently passed. Click here for a remembrance from the Poolesville Blog.
A Gazette article reports, “A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Mary Church in Barnesville followed by a gathering at the town’s pavilion”
The first week of January saw an informative meeting on the ever more realistic promise of offshore wind power in our state. MCA co-hosted this meeting with Sugarloaf Conservancy, Friends of Frederick County, CCAN (Chesapeake Climate Action Network) and the Sierra Club.For the full summary and a look at where Offshore Wind stands, click here. Thanks to all that attended!
Wind power industry site Offshore Wind.biz picked up the story and wrote this article. ( Be advised that the picture with the article is not from the Forum, the turnout was similar but such elegant carpeting would be ill advised in an elementary school lunch room, which is where our event took place.)
To get involved with bringing offshore wind online in our state, visit our friends at CCAN. If you decide to participate in either the Maryland, Got Wind? photo campaign or Polar Bear Swim, send us pictures or video! firstname.lastname@example.org
Word of the closure of the County’s longest operating, family owned general store hit folks hard. Whether farmer, hunter, rider, cyclist, birder, gardener or nearby Reserve resident, the thought of a world without Poole’s store was just more than many could bear. Where to get feed and the other essentials of country living nearby from a family that we have known and done business with for decades?
The good news: Collaborative efforts of Reserve residents, activists and staff at Park and Planning have assured continued use of the historic property to support the needs of the community. For those laboring to ensure a working landscape and robust farming community in the Ag Reserve, the continued operation of this general store and other suppliers within the Reserve is critical.
See below for update from Gene Giddens from Park and Planning:
Subject: Poole Store Open House and Scheduled Public Meeting
This is in response to the many inquiries regarding the Poole Store and the Parks Department Public Meeting date. We will continue to keep our website updated under “Announcements”: http//www.montgomeryparks.org.
In the meantime, I wish to inform you that the Parks Department will conduct an “Open House” at the Poole Store, 16315 Old River Road, Seneca, MD on Saturday morning, January 29 between the hours of 10:00 am – 12 Noon. This open house will provide the public with an opportunity to walk through the store, view the adjacent out-buildings and tour the premises. Senior park staff will be available to assist with the tour and answer questions.
A public meeting has also been scheduled for that afternoon to receive community input, commencing at 1:00 pm until 2:30 pm, at the UpCounty Regional Services Center (Room A) located at 12900 Middlebrook Road, Germantown, MD.
I am also happy to inform you, that a short term lease agreement has been finalized between the Parks Department and Farm and Home Service, Inc. for supplying the community with a retail sale and distribution of animal feed, seed, fertilizer, farm supplies, lawn and garden supplies, and similar goods. Farm and Home Service, Inc. will operate from of the storage sheds on the Poole property and have asked both Marilyn Poole and Joanne to work for them. We expect this business to commence within the next ten days.
Your concern and interest regarding the use of this property is appreciated.
On December 20th, fifty some people piled into a conference room at Montgomery County’s Ag History Farm Park to discuss strengthening Montgomery County’s local food system. Representatives from across the county were there: social service organizations, food banks, local government, farmers, consumers, and of course, MCA. Attendees were asked to comment on the broad vision laid out in the Food Innovation Center Document , written this summer by the County’s Office of Community Partnerships. (Vision statements and summary here. Full 118 pages here.)
Most in attendance agreed that parts of the draft should be carried out, with the Susutainable Farm Incubator getting the strongest support.
A full summary of the meeting is forthcoming from the County’s Office for Community Partnerships. This meeting was a great first step toward building the partnerships necessary to create a vibrant food system and maintain working landscapes in our County. Stay Tuned!
A good sized crowd braved the cold on a weeknight to hear a number of speakers from the fields of business, advocacy and government discuss the prospects for Offshore Wind Generation in Maryland. Need, feasibility, aesthetics and wildlife, cost and political challenges were all concerns for those in attendance and each speaker spoke to these concerns in turn.
But First…Wind Power’s Impact on the Ag Reserve
MCA partnered in the Wind Power Summit with Friends of Frederick County, Sugarloaf Conservancy and the Sierra Club because the County’s largest generator of carbon dioxide (three million tons a year of C02 – approximately 25 percent of total county emissions), the Mirant/GenOn Power Plant in Dickerson, is located in the top of the Ag Reserve.The facility, including 162 acres in “fly ash storage cells,” occupies more than 1.2 square miles along the Potomac River and associated stream shed, forest and farmland. It is also located entirely within the watershed of the federally protected Piedmont Sole Source Aquifer. That’s the single water source for all area wells. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has taken Mirant to court because dangerous elements in said fly ash are leaching into area groundwater.
This is a troubling development, and it leads us to call for a type of power generation that does not pose serious threats to our water supply, air and working landscapes. Offshore Wind Power could be part of the solution. Read MCA’s Press Release Here.
On to the Wind Power Summit… Speakers covered:
Keith Harrington of CCAN (Chesapeake Climate Action Network) only had to point to last years oil spill in the Gulf to demonstrate the necessity of cleaner power. Not only could spills be a thing of the past, but adding wind generation to our state power portfolio will drastically reduce pollution: adding a moderately sized windfarm (600 MegaWatts) would have the same effect on mounting pollution as permanently taking 1 in 10 cars off Maryland’s roads. With the large amount of wind off our coast, the Abel Foundation of Baltimore has reported that at least one third of Maryland’s energy needs could be filled by wind with current technology, with the potential to fulfill all our energy needs as technology improves. Add to all this that new wind farms would produce thousands of Maryland jobs that can never be outsourced and the case for offshore wind is clear.
Accepting that we need offshore wind power in our energy mix, how likely is it that we can make it happen?
All speakers touched on the fact that the very best wind power generation conditions exist along the Mid-Atlantic coast in an area stretching from North Carolina up to New England called the Mid-Atlantic Bight (all the best wind spots are red in this map). While offshore wind power is more expensive than generating wind power on land, considering the cost (and inefficiency) of transporting wind power from the windy Mid-West to the Eastern States, offshore power comes out cheaper.
Enter the evening’s second speaker, Bob Mitchell of Trans-Elect, a company working with Google to build a”transmission backbone” that would carry power from wind farms 10 or more miles out to sea back to the existing electric grid.
Aesthetics and Wildlife
Keith from CCAN showed the audience a picture of existing offshore wind turbines from the shore of a New England beach. The turbines were so far out you had to squint to see them, and this was his point; the further out you go, the windier it is, opponents of offshore wind often assume that wind farms will be in plain sight while they are enjoying time at the beach, this is not so. Lise Van Susteren of the National Wildlife Federation remarked that offshore turbines in Europe have even become a tourist destination. Speaking to the concerns of animal advocates, she debunked the idea that many birds, bats and sea mammals die because of wind turbines. In fact, scores more die as a result of the air and water pollution caused by our current fossil fuels. To that point, a long term study of bird migration in the vicinity of European offshore turbines show that the birds seem to alter their paths slightly to avoid the large structures (picture at right).
Bob Mitchell of Trans-Elect said that adding offshore wind to the power grid could make electric bills go up by a little less than 3%. In his remarks at the end of the evening, State Senator Rob Garagiola put this increase in perspective by highlighting the increases in fossil fuel derived electricity bills over the past few years, most notably a 50% hike by BG+E some years ago. Senator Garagiola reminded all present that wind energy can offer price stability to the consumer because consumers are paying the known, upfront cost of constructing the turbines and after that the “fuel” is free, prices can be locked in for 25 years, the life span of a turbine. Our current reliance on fossil fuels keeps prices wildly fluctuating based on market forces and geopolitical happenings across the world from our state. These fluctuations have lead to a 75% increase in electricity costs in Maryland from 2002-2009.
Senator Garagiola related a story of how hard it was to get a $130,000 solar grant bill passed in 2004 and how uncomfortable some people can be with change. In this economic climate, this sort of proposal could be a tough sell but the Senator was hopeful given Governor O’Malley’s leadership and the wide coalition of support behind establishing a wind power bill in the 2011 session, including business and labor, most notably the United Steelworkers Union. The Senator is committed to working on such a bill in this session and invited all in attendance to work along side him with phone calls, emails and lobby visits to Annapolis in support of offshore wind power.
MCA is looking to partner further with Chesapeake Climate Action Network to give offshore wind power a fighting chance in the General Assembly this year. Click Here to see what you can do.
On January 4 President Obama signed the Food Safety and Modernization Act into Law, the version that passed carried many amendments that will better regulate our food system to stop outbreaks of E. Coli and other food borne pathogens, but at the same time make new regulations fair for small scale farmers.
Chances for passing this important legislation in time for the end of the congressional session with local food protections in tact were slim. It was the calls and emails of concerned consumers like you that made it happen. Thank you!
Well, you know the local food movement has caught on when grocery giants such as Walmart pick up the pace and move towards greater reliance on small and mid -sized local farms. Perhaps, we can gain their support for the Reserve and its farms right here.