PATH began by asking Judge Dwyer to reverse the BZA decision, not remand it. While there "may" be a question of need for the substation, it is not out of place as an industrial use and the whole donut hole concept is completely wrong, according to PATH, who displayed a zoning map prop. According to PATH, their gigantic eyesore is allowed by special exception in 13 out of 14 zoning districts, and "it's the rule rather than the exception." Uh huh, and that's why it's called a "special exception," right? PATH thinks that the BZA's decision was made under public pressure and general compatibility isn't a BZA issue. They prattled on about their monstrosity's inherent adverse effects as being allowed and contended that the opposition would have had to prove there were additional adverse effects. And... size is irrelevant (remember this one, we'll come back here). Because the site is much larger than the 42 acre substation, that somehow "minimizes" the size of it. PATH... blah... blah... blah.... *snore* Finally the powers that be had enough of their senseless posturing and shut off the lights. No, really, all the lights went off and since the courtroom had no windows and was pitched into blackness, we were granted a merciful recess. Honestly, PATH went on way too long repeating themselves over and over, nothing new, and trying to score points that defied common sense. When they finally got the lights back on, the judge remarked that PATH's planned 30 minutes (which ended up nearer to 60) were "the longest half hour" he'd experienced. Gotta wonder if he has a power cut-off switch under the bench for situations just like today's hearing.
Here are a couple more examples of the really stupid things they said, because I can't bear to dwell on it any longer or I'll fall asleep too:
1. The BZA let outspoken opposition steer their decision.
2. A gigantic substation is already presumed to be in harmony with a residential and/or agricultural zone.
3. The Board should have weighed only PATH's evidence in reaching a decision because the opposition failed to provide substantial evidence, reports or studies (or bought & paid for "experts") undermining PATH's evidence. Umm... were these guys at the same hearings I attended last fall?
4. The Board's decision was based upon "lather whipped up by NIMBYs," who provided nothing but opinions under the guise of cross exam.
5. The farm doesn't belong to the NIMBYs and they don't pay taxes on it. Guess what, PATH? You don't really own it either and we know you don't pay taxes on it! Electric ratepayers in 13 states paid for it, and continue to pay the reduced tax rate on this "utility" property.
6. Because two existing transmission lines crossing the farm were there before the 1350 homes were built, the neighborhood was "started as a utility neighborhood" and all those homes came later (like out-of-towners).
7. Building the substation will add to the forest!
8. PATH needs to preserve their "rights" (while they stomp all over those of the residents of Frederick County and two other states). PATH believes that the substation is still needed although they have no current CPCN application. They also believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy... hey, wait, who put that in my notes?
The attorneys representing CAKES, Sugarloaf Conservancy and Frederick County did a great job making PATH look foolish, however I missed a great deal of it when I had to leave the room to take a phone call. The notebook got passed before I stepped out, so if this next bit is inexact, feel free to provide correction to my bad transcription.
Where there is a mix of law and fact, the court is to use the "fairly debatable" standard -- whether reasonable people can come to different conclusions.
Regarding the "nature and intensity," PATH said size doesn't matter (here it comes again), but the opposition submits that it does, and it did to the BZA -- size is a measure of intensity.
The substation will cause inherent adverse effects on property values, vistas and viewsheds of surrounding properties, all of which can be considered according to Maryland courts.
Non-governmental utilities are to appear consistent with surrounding neighborhoods. Evidence showed that 1300 homes made up the neighborhood, not the two existing transmission lines. The substation did not have an appearance consistent with the surrounding neighborhood in the minds of the BZA.
The extent of harm or disturbance makes special exception "debatable."
Size matters! This case is about something that has never existed in Maryland before.
The purpose of an agricultural zone is "to preserve agricultural land, character & quality scaled to meet rural needs." PATH's substation would not serve the needs of the rural community. It is illogical to think that the County Commission envisioned something of this size in an agricultural or resource conservation zone. The only reasonable interpretation is a non-governmental utility that is compatible with and furthers the mission of the zone.
Frederick County's attorney then addressed the fact that PATH's appeal is moot since PATH has been abandoned. That woke the PATH suits up -- great rustling of papers and arrogant appearance of great outrage because PATH has only been "suspended." Riiiiiiight... and that's why they are releasing purchased property options in Frederick County. We all know PATH is perched on the cliff of abandonment and the ground is crumbling beneath their feet. Chomel pointed out that even if PATH was granted their special exception, it would expire in one year and they don't plan to construct it before November 2012 when they don't have an active application before the Maryland PSC. Judge Dwyer had many questions for PATH, which had their attorney sputtering amidst a shower of notes being thrown at him from the rest of the herd. Nice job of looking cornered, fellas!
Judge Dwyer refused to rule from the bench on the matter and he can take as long as he likes to issue a decision. I wonder if he can outlast PATH's pretension that their project is still viable?
Frederick News Post article. I see Ed Waters is still Ed Waters. Sigh.