Friends of Harford, Inc focuses on Harford’s land use issues, working for a fair balance between the rights of those wanting to develop a property and the rights of neighbors who might be impacted by that development.
Land use is controlled by the County Executive and County Council members. In anticipation of the upcoming election, Friends of Harford asks candidates to please respond to the posted questions so we may understand your perspectives and reasoning on these issues.
We will post your responses on our website and notify our members that they are available.
Responses are due back by April 15, 2018.
Thank you for your cooperation and assistance in keeping Harford County citizens aware and informed of your goals and objectives.
Friends of Harford News and Views
The Zoning Code tells us what we may do with our property. Build a house? 7 houses? A restaurant? A gas station? We read the code to find out what uses are automatically permitted, but there are exceptions to the rule. If the code shows a use as a special exception, it may be approved with certain extra conditions to protect the neighbors, or it may not be approved at all. That use must also be compatible with what is already allowed in the neighborhood.
A Special Exception is unique in that neighbors can object to the proposed site plan during a required, formal hearing. The public may be represented for free if the People’s Counsel agrees to represent the interests of the public.
The overriding rule for a Special Exception is if it causes too much harm to the neighbors, and changing the site plan won’t stop the harm, it should not be approved.
In all there are 10 requirements** for approval of a Special Exception. So for example, the code states one may build a sawmill in CI (Commercial Industrial) or GI (General Industrial) zoned properties, but one must ask for a Special Exception for a sawmill on an AG (Agricultural) zoned property.
A Hearing Examiner decides whether the request is approved or denied for that plan at that particular location. The decision may be appealed to the County Council which sits as the Board of Appeals.
1. Zoning Code, Article IX, Special Exceptions page 315
2. Friends of Harford Newsletter-Public Participation for Special Exception
** Special Exceptions consider the effects of the proposed site plan on: the number of people living or working in the area; traffic conditions; orderly growth of the neighborhood and any fiscal impact the County may have because of the approval; the effect of odors, gas, smoke, fumes, vibration, glare and noise on the surrounding properties; if there is adequate police, fire, water, sewer or garbage services; if the development is consistent with good planning; any harm to existing structures nearby such as churches, schools, etc.; environmental impact or opportunities for recreation or harm to sensitive land; the preservation of cultural and historic buildings or places.
2017 Comprehensive Zoning Review Public Input
Two things determine what can happen on a property: the zoning of the property and the Zoning Code. The Zoning Code changes frequently, but the ongoing Comprehensive Zoning Review (CZR) is most citizens’ ONLY chance to influence zoning.
Here is the LIST OF PROPERTIES that have requested a change in zoning, what each will likely be given unless the public objects (column heading “Bill 17-015”) and what FOH recommends (FOH column). A summary of the properties we’re most concerned about is HERE.
We urge you to speak up for the zoning you feel is right. Either speak up at the County Council’s final public hearing on Monday October 2 (Aberdeen HS at 6:30pm) or Thursday October 5 (Bel Air HS at 6:30pm). You’ll have up to 3 minutes and need to arrive early to sign up to speak.
As always, we also urge you to email your opinion to the County Council.
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.
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.
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.