Fence, trees can sufficiently screen substation, appeals board rules But decision on utility's plan for site may change

March 28, 1997|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Allegheny Power System doesn't have to enclose with walls a planned substation near Mount Airy, the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals has decided.

But the board's decision this week may not have settled the issue of how to screen the 34.5-kilovolt substation from traffic on nearby Interstate 70 and homes in the Mill Bottom and Penn Shop Road areas.

The utility plans to build the substation on Parr's Ridge, the highest point between the Catoctin Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay.

"I don't see what brick walls are going to solve in this particular site," said John R. Lovell Jr., appeals board chairman, before voting to approve a slatted fence and tree screening that Allegheny Power had agreed to earlier.

Allegheny Power's plan has bounced between the Frederick County planning commission and appeals board for nine months.

Neighbors have attended hearings seeking an enclosure that would reduce the substation's impact on their view, now a wooded hillside.

Either of two contemplated actions could keep the issue alive.

The appeals board may reconsider its decision, and neighbors are considering taking the issue to court.

The appeals board will review a tape recording of a January planning commission decision to require Allegheny Power to build masonry walls with brick veneer to hide most of the substation, though a 65-foot pole would protrude above the walls.

The board agreed to the review after planning commission Vice Chairman Robert White pointed out differences in interpreting the county's zoning ordinance.

The appeals board will reopen the case if White's point is valid, said Paul Zimmerman, an assistant county attorney.

"At this point in time, I don't think they're going to find a discrepancy," he said.

Mark DeSimone, president of the Mill Bottom Road Residents Association, said the group will consider appealing the zoning board's decision.

DeSimone said the bottom line is "Allegheny Power doesn't choose to participate with the community it serves. Pepco does."

Residents took photos to the zoning board hearing to show substations Pepco has enclosed in Montgomery County.

Allegheny Power plans to build a substation on a half-acre initially.

It would be expanded to 230 kilovolts on 2 1/2 acres eventually.

The planning commission in June directed Allegheny to lower the grade and build 45-foot walls to conceal the planned larger substation and the 65-foot pole.

The utility appealed and won a decision that the planning commission had erred in considering the full 230-volt substation.

The commission then reviewed a site plan for the 34.5-kilovolt station and told the utility to enclose most of the equipment.

The commission relied on advice from its attorney in deciding that Allegheny Power had to comply with a section of the county zoning ordinance that requires operations to be enclosed with walls, although storage facilities may be screened with fencing and trees.

Zimmerman advised the appeals board that it could conclude the planning commission used the wrong section of zoning law, allowing the board to rescind the requirement for walls.

White was barred by Lovell from speaking during the appeals board hearing and vote.

He said afterward that the commission based its decision on its attorney's opinion that it was applying the zoning ordinance appropriately.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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