Carl Beall's family dates back to 1907 when his grandfather moved to Stevenson, a picturesque village with an historic church, a quiet village center and scenic hills where deer and cows graze among fields and farms.
Mr. Beall wants to renovate two houses his family owns alongside the Stevenson Village Center so he can lease them to real estate brokers, accountants and attorneys.
His reasoning is simple: While the community hasn't changed much since the 1900s, the real estate market has. There's a demand for office space in Stevenson, he says.
But Mr. Beall's houses are on land not zoned for offices. So he has applied to the Baltimore County Office of Planning and Zoning for a zoning change.
The 1992 comprehensive zoning process has begun in Baltimore County, and Mr. Beall's application is one of hundreds of petitions for changes expected in the next three months. His is among 16 requests already filed.
The process happens once every four years, takes 16 months to complete, involves a massive re-examination of how people use their land, and usually sparks spirited battles between people who want to develop land and communities fighting to stop them.
"There are a lot of reasons why farmland should be kept the way it is," said Margaret Worrall, executive director of the Valleys Planning Council, Inc. "But not everyone sees it that way."
County officials say the process has implications for just about every open field, woodland or undeveloped strip in the county.
Anyone who wants to change their land use -- whether to convert their living room into a barber shop, turn their garage into a hobby shop, or harvest 300 town houses from their agriculturally zoned cornfield -- must apply for a zoning change and become part of comprehensive zoning, said Gary L. Kerns, chief of the county planning office's Community Planning Division.
In the cycle that began in 1987, 1,232 land use issues were decided, Mr. Kerns said.
Ms. Worrall's group, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve farmland, often finds itself fighting many battles in the comprehensive zoning process, particularly in the county's northern communities where large tracts of open fields, farms and woodlands remain.
Traditionally, those seeking to develop tracts hire attorneys and often become publicity-shy -- fearing that press coverage will only add to protests. Those fighting developments are usually more than willing to express concerns.
"Some people see the land as a treasure to be protected," Ms. Worrall said. "Others see it as a treasure to be made a lot of money out of."
This year's comprehensive zoning process began Aug. 1 when the Office of Planning and Zoning started to take applications. It will run until November 1992, when the planning office will draw up zoning maps approved by the County Council after a series of public hearings.
Generally, county planners and council members try to visit each site where a zoning change has been requested for a firsthand look at the affected community.
Outside of the comprehensive zoning process, zoning changes also are approved in six-month cycles.
But in those cases, applicants
must prove to county zoning officials that either a mistake was made in the original zoning or that major changes have affected a neighborhood's character, Mr. Kerns said.
By contrast, to win zoning changes during the comprehensive zoning process, petitioners only need to show that their plans are consistent with the county master plan.
Baltimore County's comprehensive zoning process
Anyone interested in applying for a zoning change for property in Baltimore County should contact the Office of Planning and Zoning at 887-3480 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to obtain an application form.
A series of maps detailing the location of the property and a brief statement describing the reason for the change are required. Filing fees range from $75 for civic and community associations to $1,250 for developers. The deadline for completed application packets is Oct. 31.
Aug. 1-Oct. 31, 1991
Any person, association, corporation or county agency may request a zoning change.
Jan. 16-March 30, 1992
Requests are analyzed by the county staff, and data summarizing each are published in a log. The log and accompanying maps are compiled into a report by the county planning board that forms the basis for public hearings in April 1992.
April 1-April 30, 1992
The planning board holds a public hearing in each of the seven council districts.
May 1-June 30, 1992
The planning board reviews and discusses the requests at a series of open sessions. Recommendations on each request must be adopted by the board by June 30, 1992.
The planning board recommendations are forwarded to the County Council, and a revised log is published as a basis for council hearings.
County Council holds public hearings in each council district. Council must vote on each request before Oct. 16. The revised zoning map will become effective 45 days after being signed by the county executive.
The Office of Planning and Zoning prepares final amended zoning maps.