Attorneys argue for and against substation zoning denial
Attorneys for Potomac Edison argued in court Monday that the county's Board of Zoning Appeals had gone too far when they shot down plans for a power substation near Mount Airy.
Gregory Rapisarda, an attorney with Saul Ewing, the law firm representing Potomac Edison, told Judge G. Edward Dwyer the zoning board had "overstepped its authority."
The case springs from a decision in November by the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals to deny an application to place the substation on Bartholows Road. The utility company had applied for a special exception to locate the substation on a 150-acre site in an agricultural zone.
Potomac Edison is asking the court to overrule the zoning board and require the board to approve the special exception.
Dwyer will review the case and make a decision later. Attorneys said there is no time limit for the judge's decision.
Opponents said the proposed substation would be unsafe and noisy, have a negative impact on the environment and reduce property values.
In December, the zoning board rejected another request to reconsider by the utility company. The board said the substation was not compatible with the neighborhood and did not fit into the county's comprehensive plan.
Rapisarda said the county's zoning laws are set by the county commissioners: "The (zoning) board cannot legislate or ignore the code."
Robert Cannon, also representing Potomac Edison, and Rapisarda told Dwyer that while the utility company had presented evidence from experts in various fields, "the zoning board had been swayed by pressure from residents, out-of-towners and others."
The zoning board held four meetings, one 12 hours long, before making its final decision.
Cannon said that while Potomac Edison presented expert evidence, audience members "offered opinions in the guise of cross-examination." Cannon emphasized the land is owned by the utility company, not the residents of the 1,300 homes within a mile of the site. "It is not their land, not their property," he said. "They don't pay taxes on it, we do."
Attorney Scott Miller, representing Citizens Against the Kemptown Electric Substation, and Amy Grasso, attorney for Sugarloaf Conservancy, both argued that citizens gave "fairly debatable" information at the hearings before the zoning board.
The attorneys for the citizens' groups and Senior Assistant County Attorney Michael Chomel argued that the zoning board had made the proper decision and that the substation was not compatible with the neighborhood.
Chomel argued that the zoning board, while staffed by county employees, "is not part of the county, but was established by the General Assembly. It is separate from the county commissioners."
Miller argued that the county comprehensive plan looked at orderly development and that the substation would not be part of that.
Dwyer noted that the substation project, and the Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) -- the transmission lines across three states ending at the proposed substation -- were withdrawn from application with the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Rapisarda said that while the application is "suspended" -- withdrawn in February 2011 -- the substation is still seen as necessary to providing reliable power to the region.