Manchester tackling a major revision of its charter and code

December 15, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

The town of Manchester has begun one of its high-priority tasks for the coming year: a major revision of the town charter and code.

Consultants from the University of Maryland are helping the TTC town. They are now working on the charter portion of the project, and their comments are expected in early January, Town Manager Terry L. Short said Thursday.

When the Town Council set its priorities for the coming year at a strategic planning workshop Aug. 17, members assigned the update of the charter and code a high priority, second only to assuring an adequate water supply.

Some of the alterations to the charter and code will be small.

Outdated or redundant material, such as a section specifying that women may vote in Manchester elections, will be removed, Mr. Short said.

Clarifications will be made where one part of the code appears to contradict another.

One change the council may make, Mr. Short said, is in the process used to set water and sewer rates.

Currently, the council changes rates by passing an ordinance.

Using a resolution instead would save the town advertising and printing costs.

Other parts of the update may be more controversial.

The current charter is silent on how to fill a council vacancy if the remaining council members deadlock over a nominee -- which occurred after the resignation of Councilman John A. Riley on Oct. 12.

Councilman Douglas E. Myers has said he favors a charter amendment allowing the public to select a replacement in a special election. But Councilwoman Charlotte B. Collett said she would favor a charter amendment requiring the post to be offered first to the runner-up in the most recent Town Council election.

Another change the council could enact during the charter revision would be to add a requirement that the council hold a public hearing before any ordinance is enacted.

In practice, Mr. Short said, the council usually does conduct a public hearing before passing an ordinance, except when an ordinance is introduced as an emergency measure.

But the council is not required to do so, he said.

It could also take this opportunity to change the date of Town Council elections so they coincide with the general election, Mr. Short said.

If the town election is held the same day as other elections, voter turnout would increase, he said.

Mr. Short said the council may also relax zoning requirements for townhouses.

Manchester law requires interior units in townhouse developments to be at least 36 feet wide. In most jurisdictions, interior townhouses are only 18 feet to 21 feet wide, said Miriam DePalmer, assistant zoning administrator for the town.

Mrs. Collett, who has oversight responsibility for planning and zoning and is a member of the town's Planning and Zoning

Commission, predicted the council would loosen the restrictions with little disagreement.

She said she also hopes the council will change its budget year to coincide with the calendar year. Currently, the town's budget year runs from July 1 through June 30.

"That's asinine to me," she said, because it complicates paperwork for groups such as the town's tree commission.

The tree commission must apply for grants and awards with data on spending during the calendar year, she said.

Ms. DePalmer said she is looking forward to the code update.

She said the zoning code the town now uses was written in 1976, based on the county's 1975 code.

"It's time to change it," she said.

Manchester should also update its rules on day-care centers, she said. Day-care centers are allowed as a conditional use in some zoning classifications, but they must be authorized by the town Board of Zoning Appeals.

If a family of eight can move into a neighborhood, Ms. DePalmer said, why require a special hearing to allow a day-care center to care for eight children to operate in that neighborhood? In 1991, six of the board's 18 cases were for approval of day-care centers, she said. All were approved.

Eliminating the day-care cases from the board's agenda would save the town money spent on advertising, preparing for and conducting meetings, Ms. DePalmer said.

Another subject not addressed adequately under the current code is home businesses, she said.

The current code allows home businesses.

But they may take place only in the home, not in outbuildings, and they may take up only 25 percent of the home's floor space. People who do not live in the home may not participate in the business, even if related closely to the proprietor.

For example, she said, a daughter and mother may not open a home craft business together unless they live in the same house.

Clarifications in other parts of the code would also be welcome, she said.

For example, the revised code should spell out how many lots should be contained in each cluster in a cluster development, she said.

Any clarifications that can be made will reduce the chances that Manchester will end up fighting an expensive lawsuit, she said.

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