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Council gears up for second discussion on DP&L project

(Jan. 4, 2013) The City Council is slated to take a key vote on Monday regarding the proposed expansion of the Delmarva Power and Light substation on 138th Street, but former city councilman, resident and long-time dissenter Vince Gisriel still says he has gotten no resolution on what he sees as the city’s failings in organizing the proceedings leading up to the decision.

“I left that issue with the council, so they’ll have that to mull over with the finding of fact and the testimony,” Gisriel said. “I hope that gets resolved prior to the hearing on Monday.”

When he appeared before council on Dec. 17, Gisriel contended that the legal notices of the public hearing placed in Ocean City Today and the Digest were riddled with errors in identifying the relevant property.

“A single typo is understandable,” Gisriel said. “But there are four glaring errors in that simple ad, that – to a person who might live on the other side of the bay – may cause them to look at a tax map and think it’s nowhere near them because they’re off by 5,000 digits in the parcel numbers.”

Gisriel also claimed that the city had failed to run the ads for two consecutive weeks and for more than 30 days in advance, contrary to the requirements.

“For that reason alone, the council should vote to deny the testimony [of the hearings],” Gisriel said.

But his claims have met with opposition from the city’s legal counsel. A letter from Kevin Gregory, the city’s advisor for planning and zoning matters, said that the town is under no obligation to hold additional hearings because of the issues Gisriel raised.

Further, at the Dec. 17 meeting, City Solicitor Guy Ayres objected to Gisriel speaking before council on a topic that had already been closed to hearing by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“It’s entirely inappropriate for Mr. Gisriel to be up here arguing his point,” Ayres said. “Council doesn’t take additional testimony and that’s what you [Gisriel] are trying to do. There’s an appropriate way for you to do that, but it’s not to speak before this council at this time.”

“Even if he’s right,” Ayres advised council, “the correct action isn’t to deny the request [to approve the land use for the substation].”

Gisriel has maintained, however, that he is simply trying to keep the city’s answers to his queries out in the public and “keep the issue alive.”

The city P&Z Commission approved last month — for the second time — DP&L’s expansion request. The first attempt, in August, to clear the project had failed to garner the final nod from council, which remanded it back to the P&Z Commission to address a number of questions and concerns, largely the result of a strong negative reaction from the surrounding community.

The proposal regards the expansion of the Delmarva Power and Light substation, which encompasses the block between 137th and 138th Streets and Derrickson and Sinepuxent Avenues. Half the property has contained a power substation since 1974 and since then Delmarva Power bought and demolished the four homes on the other half of the block to make way for an expansion of the station.

DP&L public affairs head Jim Smith explained previously that the expansion was needed to install a Static Var Compensator at the facility.

“In layman’s terms, it’s a booster pump,” he said, noting that the city’s power comes entirely from plants far to the north and flows down through Delaware. Delmarva Power has no lines running across the bay bridge to the north or at the Chesapeake’s southern end at the bay bridge-tunnel between Virginia’s Eastern Shore and Virginia Beach.

Because the transmission is so long and because Ocean City’s population fluctuates rapidly, the grid is often unable compensate quickly enough, resulting in voltage drops and spikes. The SVC would solve that, Smith said.

The city’s say in how DP&L uses its land comes from the fact that utility distribution facilities are considered “conditional uses” in “2a” residential zoning areas, the designation that applies to that area. Conditional uses are ones that are permitted in a given zone, but must be specifically approved by the city before they can be implemented, as they may have an undue impact on the intended function of the district.

“What you have to find is that the burdens of this use are more severe at this particular location than would be at other locations that have the same zoning,” Ayres advised council before the project’s initial rejection in August.

Gisriel and other residents have argued particularly against the potential impact on property values in the surrounding area, as well as the potential impact of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Gisriel has lobbied the city to do its own study on EMF levels around the substation.

Adding another element of intrigue to the long-debated project, Gisriel said this week that he plans to ask the city if it was ever approached by DP&L about using the 100th Street substation as a location for the SVC. DP&L has noted that placing the equipment there would be overly expensive and complex as compared to 138th.

But Gisriel said he suspects that the city was reluctant to lose the parking on the vacant lot that would be expanded into if the expansion were to be done at the more southern location.

“One of the executives of DP&L indicated to one of the citizens in our community that they had wanted to do the project at 100th Street, but the city didn’t want to lose the parking,” Gisriel said. “I want to know who knew what, and when they knew it.”

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