Property owners who want to build on their vacant waterfront lots could escape the long and costly variance process if the County Council approves a plan being developed by county planners.
Anne Arundel County officials want to create an internal review for building in waterfront communities established before the 1986 Critical Area Law, said Joseph Elbrich, the county's environmental administrator. He said he did not know how many parcels would be affected.
The standards established for building on those lots would provide a "more streamlined" review than the current variance process does, said Sarah Taylor Rogers, director of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission.
The new rules would be part of a buffer exemption program affecting all built-up waterfront areas. The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission and the County Council would have to approve the new rules.
Usually, a property owner can get a variance in three months. The new rules could cut that to a few weeks. Also, the $125 fee for requesting a variance would be waived, eliminating some related engineering costs.
Under the buffer exemption plan, owners of already developed lots could build additions and sheds without getting a variance as long as the new construction was no closer to the water than existing structures. The plan would define criteria for exemptions.
Regina Esslinger, a planner with the county's Critical Area Commission, said the commission had told county planners to propose specific, enforceable standards.
Jane Sinclair, who heads the Severn River Association's zoning committee, said the current variance process provides more review. It also creates a file for public inspection and includes a review by a hearing officer in a public setting.
A more streamlined, internal review would leave communities less informed and give citizens fewer opportunities to debate local development, she said.
"It would kind of cut out that opportunity for the person who lives next door or down the street to comment," she said.
"Usually, it is the people who live next door or down the street who know if something is a wetland, or how it needs to be protected."
Vernon Gingell, former chairman of the South County Environmental Commission, said he sees a need to strike a balance between overburdening the landowner and controlling development no longer considered appropriate for waterfront.