June 22, 2018
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  • In May, the Schuh administration signed several smart growth initiatives into law, including a rezoning moratorium, Small Area Plan requirement and a change to the modification process.
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    In May, the Schuh administration signed several smart growth initiatives into law, including a rezoning moratorium, Small Area Plan requirement and a change to the modification process.

Development Bills Gain Widespread Support At County Council Meetings

Zach Sparks
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June 8, 2018

With citizen input throughout the fall and winter, Anne Arundel County commenced the General Development Plan (GDP) process, which, upon its adoption by the county council in late 2019, will guide land use decisions for the next 20 years.

While the council will have some new faces in 2019 thanks to term limits, the current members made short-term strides in April and May to control growth and make the planning and zoning process more transparent.

Zoning Freeze

On May 7, the seven-member council unanimously passed a temporary moratorium that will halt the acceptance of rezoning applications. Drafted by County Executive Steve Schuh’s administration, the bill will be imposed July 15 and be lifted when the General Development Plan (GDP) is drafted and submitted to the Planning Advisory Board or January 1, 2020, whichever comes first.

The initial start date was September. Several council members advocated moving the date sooner. Planning and Zoning Officer Phil Hager responded by saying that applicants would need more time to retain counsel and the services of a planner, engineer or surveyor.

“When you’re looking at taking away a fundamental right, we want to make sure there’s adequate notice provided,” Hager said.

Hager also emphasized the intent of the bill, which is meant to aid the GDP process, not to stop development, although some residents might consider that a nice side effect.

On May 21, Grasso also proposed legislation to prevent landowners from upzoning their property by more than one classification at a time (for example, going from R1 to R15 instead of R1 to R2). The bill would have taken effect after the moratorium was lifted and not during comprehensive rezoning.

Grasso likened the proposal to a check valve. “What winds up happening is that if [the developer] can sell enough ice cream to the Board of Appeals, that maybe the Board of Appeals might turn around and allow something to go from an R2 to an R15,” he said.

After Hager testified that there are times when a change needs to be made, and that it’s not always an incremental change but a major change, the other six councilmen voted against the bill.

Small Area Plans And Administrative Hearings

Small Area Plans were another emphasis of the May 7 meeting. Schuh proposed making the Small Area Plans a mandatory part of the GDP process, starting not with this cycle but the following cycle.

Hager, who took over for Larry Tom in July 2017, said the decision was made in 2007 to abandon the Small Area Plans. That decision was codified in 2009 by the members of the council during that time.

“People are frustrated by all the work that went into the Small Area Plans in the early 2000s, the amount of resources that were expended by the county and by the public in the development of those plans,” Hager said. “And now, to have them rendered useless is frustrating to them.”

Councilman Jerry Walker was in favor of the plans but against waiting until the next GDP to implement the law.

“I understand the administration’s argument that there’s not enough time to do this, but that just means to me they probably should have started on this three years ago instead of waiting until now to address it,” Walker said.

That bill passed 7-0, as did legislation to notify property owners within 300 feet of a pending administrative hearing. The old law required notice only to those within 175 feet.

Speaking in favor of that bill, Stephen Bradford of Annapolis called the current number of 175 feet an arbitrary distance.

“I think notifications should exceed the distance of a football thrown by an adult male,” he said. “If we can’t notify the surrounding area of these developments and changes with the lick of a stamp, I think we have defeated our purpose in notifying the community.”

Modifications

Sponsored by Schuh and co-sponsored by Councilman Andrew Pruski, Bill 27-18 changes the review process for modifications, which relieve developers from meeting specific requirements of the code.

Applicants will have to prove that the modification was discussed at a community meeting or that all property owners within 300 feet of the affected property were notified. A 15-day waiting period between submission and consideration of the modification will also be enforced to allow supporters or opponents to weigh in.

Elizabeth Rosborg, Arnold Preservation Council vice president, addressed the county council before on this issue and returned again to offer insight.

“I came in February 2017 when 513 modifications were requested and all but three were approved. I came back in November of 2017 when 603 modifications were requested and all but two were approved,” Rosborg said. “The difficult part is it’s up to us as citizens to look at the county website, to see if a modification has been applied for, to travel down to Planning and Zoning, to pay for copies of that modification, and at least this way, those people within 300 feet and those organizations that represent the area are notified of the modification.”

Cannabis Dispensary Locations

A debate over cannabis dispensaries spanned April to late May, with the county council voting unanimously to approve the bill on May 21. On April 16, the Schuh administration introduced Bill 24-18, which does not allow variances for a cannabis grower, processor or dispenser. Residents from all over the county supported the bill.

Representing the Generals Highway Council of Civic Associations and an estimated 9,000 people, Mark Zablotny said he received many emails in support of the legislation but none against it.

“On a personal note, I myself am a cancer survivor. I got Agent Orange contamination when I was a soldier in Vietnam, and I know the pain and suffering many people deal with,” Zablotny said. “The problem is the variances allow bad locations. A perfect example of this problem is the Kind Therapeutics variance application for 2061 Generals Highway behind Matthew Weller Farm Outlet and the bowling alley. There’s no good access to this location; it’s a horrendously busy intersection of Generals Highway and Bestgate road. The traffic is awful now. This will just add more misery.”

Jack Andryszak, a lobbyist representing Pure Hanna Synergy, was the lone opponent of the bill who testified.

“It places an unreasonable and unique limitation on the zoning commission in that it prohibits the use of any variance,” he said, naming pawn shops, race tracks and adult bookstores as some of the other businesses that do not face the same regulations.

The Schuh administration has assembled a task force to study prior legislation passed by the county council to see if it’s being adhered to. In the meantime, the council passed Bill 24-18.

“We are trying to protect these communities who are concerned about the law being ignored,” said Bernie Marczyk, a government affairs officer with the Schuh administration.


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