2017 Comprehensive Zoning Review WRAP-UP

Comprehensive rezoning is over for another 6 to 8 years.  This round there were 115 requests by residents or their agents.  Every Councilman introduced amendments to grant a more intense use for a property than the one received in the legislation as presented by County Administration. 

It should be noted that a Land Use Study conducted by the County in 2011 and again in 2014 declared that there was more than adequate land available for every use, be it residential, business or commercial-industrial available well beyond the next CZR era. The study also showed there will be a need for more Residential zoning long before there is a need for more Business or Industrial zoned land. 

Rezoning to a more intense District (up-zoning) often means additional facilities/services will be required from the County.  The cost of funding these new roads and other required infrastructure will be borne by the taxpayers.  Harford County elected officials are responsible for balancing the citizens’ quality of life and taxpayer funding for future infrastructure requirements caused by approved zoning changes. 

In all, 836 acres received requests for rezoning.  Approximately 250 acres were up-zoned from less intense to more intense categories of zoning, e.g., from agricultural to residential, from residential to business, or business to industrial.  Approximately 80 acres were up-zoned in intensity, e.g., R1 rezoned to R3, B1 rezoned to B2, etc.

Comprehensive Zoning Review Bill 17-015 with Amendments CHART

To sum up by District:

FOH is satisfied with the District A results.  District A had 20 requests for more intense rezoning.  Three up-zonings were supported by the County, two of which had the endorsement of the community.  One additional up-zoning was by amendment from the Councilman. About 8 acres went from Residential to Business or Industrial zoning, while about 10 acres went from B2 to B3 zoning.

FOH is severely disappointed with District B rezoning. District B had 25 requests with 2 requests withdrawn.  About 57 acres were granted more intense kinds of zoning, including 50 Agricultural acres converted to Business or medium-intensity Residential zoning. Plus, 14 acres increased intensity within the same zoning category (majority were from B2 to B3, the Highest Business Intensity).

FOH strongly opposed the high intensity up-zoning of about 45 acres at the outer edges of the Development Envelope (intersection of Mountain Road (Route 152) and Route 1), recently added and approved July 2016 by Harford County Council.  Severe up-zoning was granted even though there are rural homes and a farm in Agricultural Preservation on the Development Envelope’s boundary in this area .  The decision was in violation of HarfordNEXT, and contrary to the rationale applied in District F, where the County reduced an owner’s request for R2 zoning to only R1 at the Development Envelope boundary near rural homes.  FOH is disappointed with the representation and lack of explanation from District B County Councilman and Administration regarding the approval of intense up-zoning to R2 and B3 in the Fallston Community area.

FOH was reasonably satisfied with the results of District C.  District C had 17 requests.  While we disapproved of the conversion of 3 R2-zoned properties to B2 or Commercial Industrial,  these totaled less than 1.5 acres. 

FOH is pleased with the results of District D.  District D had 23 requests.  We supported the community in their work to insure that the 3 properties at the intersection of Routes 23 and 24 were restricted to R1 zoning, and that the Madonna property remained AG.

FOH was also content with the results of District E.  District E had 11 requests.  We agree with the amendment to rezone the 6 requests next to Ripkin Stadium to B1, and the zoning has been coordinated with the city of Aberdeen.

FOH was very disappointed with District F results.  District F had 20 requests.  In spite of Harford expecting to need residential units long before the county runs out of either Business or Industrial-zoned land, District F sacrificed 122 acres of Residential land in favor of yet more Industrial land.  There was a net loss of 100 acres of high-density (primarily R4, some R3) residential land converted to Industrial, partially offset by a loss of 21 acres of  Agricultural land that was rezoned to R1 (lowest density).  The only good news was the Treese Way development off Laurel Brook was not up-zoned and remains R1;  it has many  Natural Resource Districts.

In summary, Districts A, C, D and E were largely acceptable and we thank the Administration and Council members from those districts.  We remain strongly opposed to the rezoning results of Districts B and F.

Final Bill 17-015 Chart with Amendments & FOH Evaluation

Mixed Use In Your Backyard

The term “Mixed Use” is the basic principle of integrating where we live, work and shop and allows for various configurations and densities. 

The Harford County Zoning code §267-76, amended August 22, 2016 permits Mixed Use Centers* in every business, commercial and industrial zoning and in the high density R4 zoning.  All that is required is 5 acres of land inside the development envelope with access to a primary road and access to public water and sewer. Except for rubble fills, every use permitted in B1, B2, B3, CI, GI, LI and R4 zoning districts are permitted in the Mixed Use District REGARDLESS OF THE UNDERLYING ZONING.  

This means that properties intended to have low-intensity B1 zoning can be used at higher intensity, or for large commercial and industrial facilities, without public input, by establishing a Mixed Use District. 

B1 Neighborhood Business District is intended to provide limited retail services convenient to residential neighborhoods near the permitted business. B1 has standards which are compatible with low-density residential districts. 

We believe zoning code §267-76, should be amended to remove B1 areas from this use. 

We believe it is wrong to allow high intensity, high impact, and high traffic industrial and business uses in what is supposed to be low-impact B1 zoning 
(i.e., limited retail and service facilities for nearby residences).  We believe Mixed Use Centers should not be allowed on properties zoned B1.
 
The concept of a mixed use center that creates a combination of business and residential uses and a reduction of vehicle miles traveled is a good concept. But Mixed Use Center should not enable developers to supersede low-intensity B1 zoning standards, in effect rezoning properties to higher intensity without public input.  

We urge you to contact the County Council and ask them to amend the Zoning Code to remove Mixed Use Centers in B1 zoning districts.

*Mixed Use Centers are Special Development uses, meaning they are uses that are automatically allowed when they meet certain additional design requirements.

Review Harford County Zoning Code’s standards and descriptions HERE

Quickly compare the Uses permitted under different zoning, click HERE. 
Allowable B1 zoning uses are on pages 18 and 19.
 

Transparency & Public Input

The latest example of Harford County enacting legislation without full open and transparent public input was the County Council’s approval (6-1) of the HarfordNEXT Master Plan on June 21st 2016.

The public was allowed to comment on the plan on June 7th.  However, 16 amendments were made on June 14th, 15 were presented by Councilman Mike Perrone, and 1 amendment was provided by the County Executive.  Private letters, phone calls and emails were admissible for comment about the bill and the amendments provided, however no public speeches or comments about the bill or its amendments were allowed during the subsequent Council meetings on the 7th, 14th or 21st by the Council decree as provided by Council President Slutzky with approval by the 6 Councilmen.

On June 21st, County Council members and the County Executive presented a further 34 amendments.  The public was not allowed to view any of the amendments, nor could they comment on them.  Some of the amendments created major changes in the bill.

That evening, the Council voted on each amendment and then voted for passage of the bill.  Again, that evening, no citizen was able to speak publicly about the bill, the amendments or the vote.  The Council then adjourned for the summer allowing only 2 sessions until September.

Under the County Code, Chapter 4: Administration of Government, Section 4-19 Sessions of Council, A., it states that “such additional days as the Council may determine, are designated as legislative sessions days for the enactment of legislation”.  It further states that no more than 45 sessions may occur during one year.  To date, 21 sessions have occurred, leaving ample opportunity for special sessions to listen to citizen comments concerning amendments prior to voting on legislation.

We believe this right of public input needs to be expanded to allow comment on all amendments.  The habit of springing a change at the last minute without warning and without comment is unwarranted.

The Comprehensive Rezoning legislation will be forthcoming. This can affect every single piece of property and could impact every Harford County citizen in some manner, be it good or bad. The County Council should require adequate time for public comment before, during and after introduction of legislation and its amendments.  The Council needs to plan ahead and be ready for legislation, not wait until the eleventh hour.