What Is An Overlay?
Officially it is “any specially mapped district which is subject to supplementary regulations or requirements for development”. Every parcel of land in the County is zoned. An overlay sits on top of that zoning and modifies the normal usage allowed for every property which lies “under” the overlay. Overlays may restrict or enhance development. Restrictive overlay examples are the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area and the Floodplain district overlays.
Because the land beneath the overlay is fragile, certain types of development are not allowed even though the County has approved zoning for more intense development. Many of our restrictive overlays are handed down by State legislation. The past several years has seen the growth of development enhancing overlay legislation. A good example is the Edgewood Neighborhood Overlay District. Zoning restrictions are relaxed in this region with the hope of spurring the revitalization of commerce, residential neighborhoods and civic pride. Rather than rezoning large districts and changing every zoning regulation to reflect the desired new use, an overlay easily enacts the change in allowed uses by a single act of legislation.
The ease with which an overlay may happen should make us stop and think. An overlay may not always be a good idea. Several years ago, an overlay was proposed that would allow industrial use on agriculturally zoned land. Quite a change in zoning. While the underlying zoning remains unchanged, the over-the-top overlay may cause significant change.