In the coming weeks, property owners in three parts of the county will be able to apply to have their land rezoned. In these three areas of the county, Regions 2, 4, and 7 – broadly Jessup and Laurel; Pasadena, Severna Park, and the Broadneck Peninsula; and Annapolis Neck,
Parole, and Riva – about 45 citizens have been working for 18 months to develop the goals and strategies for the region and recommend zoning changes in the best interest of the community. Their recommendations go the Planning Advisory Board this month and the County Council early in 2024.
However, there is a back door, directly to the Council, that bypasses these citizens and their work.
Until the end of November, property owners in these areas can appeal directly to the County Council for a zoning change. Historically, the Council has approved the vast majority of these appeals, mostly ignoring or overturning the 18 months of work of the local citizens.
And, as bad as that sounds, that’s not the worst of it. All of this can happen without the knowledge of neighboring property owners.
Right now, Bill 69-23 is before the County Council. It sets the rules for how these appeals can be made. As the bill is now written, it is still heavily weighted in favor of the applicant and puts neighbors and the community at a decided disadvantage. We at the Growth Action Network (www.growthaction.net) believe that, of all county processes, decisions about zoning and land use ought to have the highest standards for openness and transparency.
As the bill is currently written, it requires applicants to post a sign on their property for 10 days. That’s 10 calendar days, 4 of which fall on weekends, for neighbors to notice the sign, call the county to find out the details, consult other neighbors, and arrive on the appointed Monday night to testify for 2 minutes about why the rezoning might be a good or bad idea. That’s an almost impossible feat for a family busy with jobs, school, church, civic organizations, kids, parents, etc. Even more impossible if they happen to be out of town then or travel on a different street during that 10-day period.
The Growth Action Network has already successfully influenced the Council to increase the notice period from the original 5 days to 10 days (though we advocated for even more.) We have some hope that there will be an amendment that would change the notice period to 10 business days rather than calendar days. We’ve also gotten the county to post all such applications to the web. But given the potential impact of rezoning a neighbor’s property, we believe that is still not enough.
For the price of a stamp, GAN believes that applicants should be required to send a letter to the owners/renters of all neighboring parcels informing them of the proposed zoning change. The county code already requires property owners to send a written notification to their neighbors for relocating structures on their property, adding a dock, and in advance of community meetings about development, modifications, and variances.
Seem reasonable that a letter should also be required if your neighbor wants to change the zoning of their property.
GAN is appealing to the administration and the County Council to shift the notice period to 10 business days and to require applicants to send a letter either by mail or courier to all neighboring property owners. Seems like the price of a stamp is a small price to pay for making changes of this magnitude within our communities.
Send a message to the County Executive by this Friday, October 13th, 2023 at https://www.aacounty.org/county-executive/contact-us and your council person at https://www.aacounty.org/county-council/council-districts/who-my-councilmember Tell them that on Bill 69-23 a) 10 calendar days is too short a notice period, and b) written notice should be required to neighbors when rezoning applications go directly to the County Council.