County planners have flip-flopped by supporting higher-density zoning on 23 acres in Arnold. But the reversal of a 3-year-old county policy has not helped the developers win the right to build more homes there.
Administrative Hearing Officer Robert Wilcox has denied Charles and Susan Cobuns' request to rezone their property on the south side of Jones Station Road. The developers wanted to change the zoning to allow up to 43 homes there, instead of the seven homes permitted under existing rules.
In his Aug. 25 decision, Mr. Wilcox said it was curious the Office of Planning and Zoning recommended that the County Council decrease the property's density in 1989. Officials then said it was county policy to lower the potential density of rural areas.
That contradicts what Richard Josephson, a county planner, contended during a hearing last month, Mr. Wilcox said. Mr. Josephson said that high-density would better conform to the county's master growth plan.
Mr. Wilcox said he has been "unable to reconcile this schizophrenic view of the property by planning officials, particularly since no one offered a satisfactory explanation as to why the 1989 recommendation changed."
Mr. Josephson and the Cobuns contended that the council made a mistake when it decreased the number of houses allowed on the property, part of a larger 35-acre parcel the Cobuns purchased in 1990.
Mr. Josephson said yesterday that the property, which is served by public water and sewer, is bordered on two sides by town houses and single-family homes, and by rural land on a third. Whether the property should be considered rural or medium-density residential is a matter of interpretation, he said, acknowledging that the county's position had changed.
"I don't think the staff should be kept from changing its mind," Mr. Josephson said.
Mr. Josephson said a natural division, created by an undevelopable flood plain, divides the Cobuns' property. He said the Cobuns only requested higher density on the portion closest to neighboring residential development.
During the hearing, the developers said they need to build more units to finance the extension of the sewer and water lines through their property and still be able to make money.
But, Mr. Wilcox said, "It is not the function of zoning to guarantee property owners the maximum economic return for their property.
"To change the zoning of a piece of property in order to lessen the financial impact of development costs would be tantamount to the tail wagging the dog," Mr. Wilcox said.
The developer has until Sept. 24 to appeal Mr. Wilcox's decision.